Legendary coach won't let anything stop him

Published August 13, 2006

WESLEY CHAPEL - The baseball juices again are starting to percolate in his 63-year-old body.

Hours before attending a fall league organizational meeting Thursday, Frank Permuy guided a visitor through the baseball shrine - replete with autographed balls, framed photos, signed bats and collector's edition plates - in the converted den of his Lexington Oaks villa.

Before that, he spent roughly an hour pontificating on the issues - the gluttony of summer competition, the shameless move of players from one school to another - affecting the game locally. By month's end, he'll be overseeing fall tryouts and helping his staff sift through the personnel that will comprise his 23rd Cowboys team next spring.

"I can see his spirits starting to come back," longtime King coach and Permuy's counterpart Jim Macaluso said.

But less than three weeks ago, Permuy would've struggled mightily to make the walk from the dugout to the mound for a pitching change.

"I still feel winded," Permuy said from his living room Thursday morning. "They say the anesthesia really kicks your butt for a couple of months."

In a career still going strong well past his proverbial pitch count, nothing has brushed back Permuy with the force of that diagnosis - prostate cancer - this past spring.

Some semiannual blood work indicated a high prostate-specific antigen (PSA) count, signaling a disturbance to the organ. An ensuing battery of tests, however, revealed the cancer had remained mercifully isolated.

Doctors suggested that removing the prostate essentially would make Permuy cancer-free. Shortly thereafter, on July 20, he and Danae, his wife of nearly 20 years, made the short drive to Town & Country Hospital, where Permuy underwent a radical prostatectomy.

"It was pretty radical, all right," he said.

Locally, Permuy - who led Tampa Catholic to the Class 3A state title in 1982 and Gaither to the 5A state championship game two springs ago - is about as iconic as a high school baseball coach can get. He has won more than 500 games at the prep level, and he coached American Legion summer ball since the Johnson Administration.

In a 2005 interview with the Times, Cowboys senior Ryan Plate condensed Permuy's career into three not-so-overstated words: "He's a legend."

But in the solemn fraternity of prostate cancer patients, he's a statistic.

According to the American Cancer Society's Web site, prostate cancer is the second-most common type of cancer found in this country's male population, behind skin cancer. This year alone, more than 234,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed.

Hence the reason Permuy is so forthcoming about his bout with the disease, which was accompanied by catheterization, bladder spasms and stomach discomfort. In some small way, he suggests, maybe his story will increase awareness.

To that end, he spares few details.

"Nobody tells you about the after (effects)," said Permuy, who underwent a state-of-the-art procedure - the da Vinci Prostatectomy - in which the surgeon controlled a series of robotic arms that actually did the work.

"Surgery's simple, nobody tells you you're going to have bladder spasms and pains in your stomach that won't go away."

Today, he and Danae walk about a mile around their neighborhood each evening. But initially, Permuy essentially was confined to the beige recliner in his living room.

Aggravating his post-operative discomfort was the fact he was prohibited from taking the medicine prescribed for his arthritic knees. Two days after returning home from surgery, Permuy had to return - in a wheelchair - to another doctor to have an inflamed knee drained.

Two days after that, he had to do it again.

"You're trying to recuperate from your surgery, and I'm getting home and icing my knees up," he said. "What (the knee medicine) does is, it can increase your bleeding and stuff. I said, 'I've got to get back on it, I don't care how much I bleed.' You don't realize how it's working for you until you stop taking it."

The bleeding has been suppressed, but Permuy's spirit still hemorrhages baseball. Though he retired as a teacher in May, he's staying put as Gaither's coach, with no thoughts of walking away.

"He's ready to go," Macaluso said. "We've talked from before the surgery, where I was like, 'You might want to take some time off.' But again, I think (baseball) really helps him to get his mind off it."

Indeed, what's a new lease on life for Frank Permuy if that life can't include baseball?

That would be radical.