ARLINGTON, Texas • In 2000, Mark Daniels' 23-year-old son phoned to say he was thinking of quitting his $40,000-a-year corporate job in Boston to try a career in baseball.
"I have faith in you," Jon Daniels recalls his father saying. "If you have similar faith in yourself, take the chance."
On Saturday, Mark Daniels traveled from Queens, N.Y., with his wife, Mindy, to watch their son's team, the Texas Rangers, host the Cardinals in Game 3 of the World Series.
That alone would be special, but it's only part of why the Daniels family expected Saturday to be emotional. It was the first Rangers game Mark Daniels has attended since having lifesaving spine surgery that might not have occurred in time if not for his son's vocation.
"I don't want to think about the possibility," Jon Daniels said. "But literally, without the baseball family, he might not be here.
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"It's a tremendous story on a lot of levels, about baseball people who rose to the occasion."
Sixth-year Rangers general manager Daniels has a high-profile job, but is generally private about family matters. His father's recuperation and trip to Texas, however, has Jon feeling grateful.
Grateful, believe it or not, to the New York Mets in general, and athletic trainer Ray Ramirez specifically.
On Aug. 30, a Monday, 60-year-old Mark Daniels returned home with a sore shoulder after a day of work. He owns a window treatment installation company and is its sole employee.
He wasn't concerned until the following evening, when the pain became excruciating, he had 103-degree fever and couldn't turn his head in either direction.
Unraveling a mystery
Initially, a doctor said he had a pinched nerve and needed an MRI. But it would take several days to get an appointment. Each phone update Jon Daniels received from his mother made him more concerned.
Jon described his father's symptoms to Rangers athletic trainer Jamie Reed and physician Keith Meister. They emailed the Mets' Ramirez to see if he could quickly arrange an MRI.
Ramirez suggested Manhattan's Hospital for Special Surgery, where the Mets send players for orthopedic treatment and surgery. Ramirez phoned Mark and Mindy Daniels and not only offered to set up an appointment the following morning but also to meet them at the hospital.
"The guy didn't know me from Adam," Mark Daniels said Friday, when reached at home in Queens. "Maybe he was doing Jon a favor. Maybe he was doing Jamie a favor, but super, super, super nice man.
"It's just nice how the whole network of MLB just reached out to one of their own who was having a problem."
It wasn't just a problem. After looking at Mark Daniels' MRI result, Dr. Brian Halpern immediately sent him to spine surgeon Federico Girardi, who concurred that a significant infection had settled along Mark's spine. He needed immediate surgery, but it wasn't until the following morning that he could be stabilized enough for it.
During surgery, the infection was discovered to be staph. By then, Jon had flown from Texas and joined Mindy and his younger brother Ryan at the hospital.
"Had he not had the surgery when he did, the results could have included paralysis or death," Jon said. Another 30 hours elapsed before Mark came out of anesthesia.
"He was extremely emotional," Jon said. "My dad, up until this point, had not been an outwardly emotional person. I think it's really given him some perspective, some things to think about, and he's been much more emotional since."
Jon is emotional when recalling not just the surgery but how Mets general manager Sandy Alderson visited Mark in the hospital and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon offered further team resources.
"I just saw it as an everyday thing," Ramirez said of his hands-on role. "It doesn't matter what uniform you're wearing, our organization feels that when someone's in need, we go out and help. It starts with ownership, the front office and the medical staff."
Ramirez had never met Mark Daniels, but he knows Jon and the Rangers, having worked for the organization from 1987 to 2004. His permanent home and family are in Arlington, where he returns each offseason.
"I can understand Jon's position because Jon works in Arlington and his family lives in New York City, and I'm the opposite," he said.
Mark Daniels said he has jokingly told Ramirez that if he sees him this weekend, "make sure there's no photographer around, because I owe you a big hug and a kiss."
Mark said he isn't sure whether he will ever return to work. He only recently was taken off intravenous antibiotics and cleared to travel. "I told my doctor, 'I can fly out to Texas for the World Series, right?' He said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Good, because I was going to go anyway.'."
Unfortunately, he isn't permitted to lift more than five pounds for the time being, so he can't lift and toss into the air grandkids Lincoln and Harper, like he usually does.
"But I get to see them, that's the important piece," he said.
For a lot of reasons, it's a good thing he once told Jon to follow his baseball dream.
"You should never go through life saying I could have or should have or would have," he said. "It's not a healthy way to live."