Heath High School assistant coach Mike Saalfield has had more than just baseball on his mind during this postseason.

Heath High School assistant coach Mike Saalfield has had more than just baseball on his mind during this postseason.

The morning after the Bulldogs defeated Bloom-Carroll 6-2 in a Division III district final on May 20 at Dublin Jerome, his wife underwent surgery at the Ohio State University Medical Center to donate a kidney.

"It's just now really starting to hit me," Saalfield said after the game as the players celebrated the team's third district title in four seasons. "This might be the first time I haven't had anyone here; everyone's at the hospital."

Despite some lingering concerns, Donna Saalfield was released last Thursday after recipient Reese Alban went home two days earlier. They spoke on the phone last Wednesday night, Mike Saalfield said. Still, it might take as long as six weeks for her to fully recover and return to her job as a sales representative for Commercial Electronics in Heath.

Alban, 68, of Newark, had made a public plea to locate potential donors after no family members were found to be a match. He didn't even meet Donna Saalfield, 43, until April 29. A live donor was needed because of Alban's age.

"What she did, it doesn't really surprise me at all," Mike Saalfield said last week. "I was apprehensive, of course, but that's just the type of person she is.

"Most people wouldn't think twice about donating to a family member. But to donate to a complete stranger, and to put yourself through all that, I'm not sure I could do it. Her youngest son Robbie (Waddell) says she's a hero."

Mike and Donna have been married for five years. She has two other children, Brittany and Trish Waddell. Brittany is a freshman softball player at Wright State University, and last week she tried out for the volleyball team there as well. Trish is a junior at Heath, and Robbie is a seventh-grader at the middle school.

"She's in good spirits," Mike said of Donna. "She's definitely got a lot of support."

Mike is expected to serve as an assistant coach again this summer with the Licking County Athletics. An algebra teacher at Heath, he has been the pitching coach there since 2000, when the Bulldogs made their first appearance in the state tournament.

"That's no coincidence, either," said Heath coach Dave Klontz, who is in his 39th season. "He's the best pitching coach I've ever been around. I give him a lot of the credit for the success we've had."

The Bulldogs went on to win state titles in 2002 and '07 while advancing to a regional final in '08. Entering last Thursday's regional semifinal against Bellville Clear Fork, the team had a combined 86-27 record (.761 winning percentage) since the start of the 2007 season.

"All this really puts baseball in perspective, though," said Mike Saalfield, a Fairport Harbor Harding graduate who later played for three years at Capital University. "Baseball's just a game. This is real life we're dealing with."