MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — By the end of last season, Mike Napoli was considering retiring from baseball because of what seemed like incurable sleep apnea. The inability to get proper rest was ruining his career to a point that Napoli was willing to undergo last-resort facial reconstruction surgery. He told the Red Sox there was no other choice.
“I couldn’t do it anymore, feeling the way I was feeling,” he said. “I was like, ‘I need to have the surgery or I’m not going play anymore.’ That’s how bad it was.”
Dr. Leonard Kaban, the chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, broke Napoli’s upper and lower jaw and moved them forward. That doubled the space in his airway.
Kaban inserted a titanium plate and several screws to reconnect Napoli’s jaw. Napoli spent two days in intensive care and experienced “10 days of pain.” Then came six weeks of a liquid diet. Nearly three months later, Napoli doesn’t have feeling in his lips and chin because of nerve damage that may not heal for up to a year.
“It was a brutal process,” Napoli said Saturday during the Winter Weekend fan fest. “It was probably one of the worse things I’ve ever done.”
But the surgery worked. Napoli has started sleeping soundly and regained the weight he lost. He won’t be ready to play at the start of spring training but expects to be in the lineup once the season starts.
“I wake up now and I’m ready to start my day,” he said. “It’s great.”
Napoli tried to combat his sleep apnea with medication, mouthpieces and a CPAP mask.
“Pretty much everything,” he said. “I was taking medicine to fall asleep with all the devices on. It was tough. I’d miss batting practice because I’d be sleeping. I’d wake up for the game. I was always tired.”
Napoli revealed that he occasionally came out of games because he was dizzy or so sleep-deprived that he couldn’t focus. Managers over the years made excuses for him.
Napoli would sleep for only minutes at a time, waking up dozens of times a night and experiencing episodes of not being able to breathe properly. He would lie in bed until noon, hoping to get enough rest before going to the ballpark.
Napoli now sleeps soundly enough to have dreams for the first time in eight years.
Napoli has not heard of another professional athlete who has had the same surgery — Maxillomandibular advancement — during their career. It’s usually done for patients later in life.
Napoli spent the winter in Boston because of the surgery and in recent weeks has been hitting and working out at Fenway Park. He’ll report to spring training on Feb. 3 to continue working with the athletic training staff. Beyond improving the quality of his life, the surgery had the ancillary benefit of forcing Napoli to give up smokeless tobacco.
“It’s awesome. I’m happy about that,” he said. “Maybe I’ll keep this feeling out of my lip for a while so I won’t.”
Napoli did not need surgery on his dislocated left ring finger. The digit is still crooked and swollen but won’t affect his swing like it did last season.
“It’s like everything is better now,” he said.
With all his physical ailments, Napoli hit .248 over 119 games last season with only 17 home runs. He expects his production to climb thanks to the energy he feels now.
Justin Masterson, who had a 5.88 earned run average last season, hasn’t thrown off a mound yet but can tell by playing catch that his mechanical issues have been solved.
The righthander, signed to a one-year contract in December, tore a rib cage muscle on his left side early last season. That led to shoulder and knee pain. The Indians traded Masterson to the Cardinals in July and it wasn’t until September that he started feeling normal. Brett Fischer, a physical therapist in Arizona who works with professional athletes, helped Masterson heal properly.
“I learned the deficiencies that were there and why things took place. I learned the ways to counteract that,” Masterson said.
Masterson had a 3.86 ERA and made 96 starts from 2011-13 with the Indians. If the 2013 All-Star returns to form, he’ll be a bargain at $9.5 million.
The Red Sox have changed plenty since Hanley Ramirez was last in the organization in 2005. But he does have an association with outfield coach Arnie Beyeler, a former minor league staffer.
The two will work together in spring training on converting Ramirez from the left side of the infield to left field. Outside of a few winter ball games years ago, Ramirez has no outfield experience. Beyeler will be charged with fixing that.
“He’s a great guy. He likes to work,” Ramirez said. “He came over [Saturday] morning and asked me what I’ve been working on. He has some ideas to make my job easier.”
Ramirez plan to arrive at spring training on Feb. 9 to get started.
The snow Panda
Until Saturday, Pablo Sandoval had never seen snow in person before. “It was great,” he said. “It was funny.” Sandoval was a popular attraction at the fan fest. The new third baseman was taking selfies with fans and getting to know his new teammates. Sandoval was wearing his 2012 World Series ring from the Giants . . . Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is stronger after spending much of the winter working out at the EXOS facility in Arizona, something the Red Sox suggested. He also worked on his first-step quickness. Bogaerts will return to Arizona for two more weeks before spring training and will work out with second baseman Dustin Pedroia a few days . . . Allen Craig, who had a poor 2013 season recovering from a foot injury, said he feels better physically. Craig has no apparent spot in the lineup but isn’t worried about that.