Cedar Rapids umpire recovering from heart attack suffered during baseball tournament

Published: Apr. 15, 2021 at 8:30 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - If you’ve been to a baseball or football game, or even a wrestling meet, chances are you’ve seen Al Gruwell of Cedar Rapids as an official. He’s been doing it for more than 30 years at all different levels from youth tournaments to high school and college.

“What got me into it was I got ejected out of a game,” Gruwell said. “The guy who was running the complex told me I couldn’t come back until I officiated for him one night, and I did. He paid me some money and I said, can I do this every night? He said, yep.”

He’s made many calls on the field over the years, but this past Sunday, there was a call made that he never thought would happen in his life. He, along with his umpiring partner, Daniel Kopriva, were preparing to work a baseball tournament at Prospect Meadows in Marion. As they were getting ready, Gruwell experienced pain in his chest.

“I took my chest protector off because it felt like I was getting squeezed to death,” Gruwell said. “I went down on my knees, handed my phone to him (Kopriva) and said, you need to call 911.”

Gruwell was having a heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital and doctors put in two stents. Doctors told his wife that if another five minutes had gone by, the outcome could’ve been different.

“That scared me,” he said.

Gruwell will have bypass surgery in the next few weeks and he’ll have to miss the rest of the baseball season, but hopes to be back officiating by fall for football.

“The fraternity we have for baseball is so tight knit that it’s the players, the coaches, the umpires -- we’re all in it together,” Gruwell said. “I’ve had all those people and many more that have reached out to me. So it tells you that they may not like you when you’re on the field, but they love you in spite of what you do.”

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