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A tough break: Radio announcer's baseball vacation cut short by broken jaw

KXRA news director Joe Korkowski snaps a selfie with his wife, Sue, after he broke his jaw while playing baseball in Florida. Joe said Sue is a fantastic cook and has taken on the challenge of his jaw being wired shut with gusto. He said she is making lots of soups and other recipes that can be liquefied because everything he eats has to fit through a straw. (Contributed) 1 / 3
Joe Korkowski (left) and Tim Urness show their Christmas spirit during last year's Jingle Bells Telethon. The duo were co-hosts of the annual live show. Korkowski broke his jaw playing baseball in Florida last month and it is unclear if he will be able to co-host the show this year. (Al Edenloff | Echo Press)2 / 3
After Joe Korkowski broke his jaw playing baseball last month in Florida, one of his teammates, who happened to be an orthodontist, recommended that he use a spoon to try moving his teeth back into place while they were still "soft." This was his attempt. (Contributed) 3 / 3

Radio announcer Joe Korkowski would love to tell you about his baseball vacation. Unfortunately, it will be a few weeks before he can really talk.

That's because he broke his jaw while warming up before the first game of the Roy Hobbs World Series amateur tournament in Fort Myers, Florida.

Despite the horrific injury, Korkowski went ahead and played anyway.

"I had been waiting to play down there for so long, I didn't want to give up before I even got to start, so I played the whole game," Korkowski replied in an email as his jaw is currently wired shut.

Korkowski, news director and an on-air host for KXRA radio in Alexandria, said he has had a love of the game since his dad, Jim, gave him his first glove at the age of 4.

This past summer, he was asked to join a 45-and-older baseball team, made up of players throughout Minnesota.

What happened?

On Sunday, Oct. 29, Korkowski's team was supposed to play at 10 a.m. at the Minnesota Twins spring training facility.

"I was so excited to play there because the last time I was at that field, I was a fan watching Tom Kelly and Doug Mientkiewicz hitting ground balls and fly balls to a variety of Twins players during spring training," Korkowski said.

But because of rain, the tournament was rescheduled a few hours later in a different location, Roberto Clemente Field.

But the rain had made a mess of the field and the wind was still howling, he said.

The outfielders, which included Korkowski, wanted to practice taking in some fly balls and get a feel for the wind. He caught a few and things were going OK until, he said, it happened.

"The ball was hit well over my head and I ran toward the warning track to catch it but as my feet hit the mushy limestone, my left foot slipped out just as I was about to catch the ball. The slip jarred my glove hand enough to move it out of the way and the ball hit me directly in the mouth," Korkowski explained.

He said it took him a moment to realize what happened. His ears were ringing and his mouth was bleeding. At first, everyone thought he knocked out a tooth or two so they looked around but didn't find anything. Fortunately for Korkowski, one of his teammates was an orthodontist and told him that because of the way his bottom teeth were separating, it was extremely likely that he had broken his jaw.

Despite the prognosis and the pain, Korkowski kept playing. In between innings, he would rinse his mouth out. He tried to bunt in his two at-bats, but stroke out both times.

After the game, he called his wife and explained what happened. He also called his dentist, Dr. Art Hermes, in Alexandria. After talking with his dentist, along with his orthodontist teammate, Korkowski decided to get his jaw X-rayed the next morning.

"Apparently, I had broken my jaw down the middle and that is why my teeth separated," he explained in the email. "I had also broke my jaw near my left cheek, making it painful to open my mouth."

He booked an earlier flight back to Minnesota so he could have surgery in St. Cloud on that Wednesday. A plate was put in his lower jaw and his mouth was wired shut.

Can he work?

As the news director for KXRA, Korkowski normally spends quite a bit of time on the air. With his mouth wired shut, this proves to be a bit difficult.

"I'm not broken, just quieter," he wrote in the email. "I will have to patiently communicate with people."

Fortunately for him, Korkowski said the radio station has a qualified back up — Mark Anthony. This week, Korkowski was supposed to take over on the radio station's program, "Openline," with co-host Patty Wicken. Anthony will fill in there and elsewhere until Korkowski is able to talk again.

"The oral surgeon said given what I do for a living, he would do all he could to accelerate the process," said Korkowski. "I am expected to be able to take the wires off by Dec. 13. Of course, I'd like to shave two weeks off that date. The fastest he (the oral surgeon) has seen anyone get the wires taken off was four weeks. We'll see."

With the approaching holiday season, the annual Jingle Bells telethon, which Korkowski has been a part of since 1995, is set for Saturday, Dec. 9. The telethon, broadcast live, raises money to purchase toy and food baskets for people in need. Korkowski has been a co-host since about 2000, he said.

"It is going to be touch and go on my involvement with the show," he said. "With the addition of Tim Urness last year (as Korkowski's co-host), I believe the on-air program was given new life. He and I were so excited for some things we were working on for this year, but we were only in the planning stages. Now we are in limbo."

However, Korkowski said that Urness, along with several others, including Chelsea Nelson, Bruce McKirdy, Tom-E-Lee, Braden Blaisdell and a number of the Jingle Bells Foundation board members, "the show will definitely go on."

He hopes that he will be there, too.

Florida bound again?

Even though he only got to play one game in the big tournament in Florida, Korkowski kept tabs on his team, which ended up going 7-1, for second place. Before leaving, he stopped by the field.

"Even though I couldn't play, after the game was over, I just had to step over the batter's box and dig in with my tennis shoes on," said Korkowski. "The game is really about people and life skills — overcoming, teamwork, optimism and surprises."

His teammates got together and collected money for him because of the extra expenses he ended up with. But there was a stipulation in accepting the money — Korkowski had to promise to come back next year.

"I'll be 50 years old, but God willing, I will be in uniform, ready to play with the enthusiasm of a rookie, because with regard to Fort Myers, I kind of am."

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. She enjoys running and has participated in nearly 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon distances.

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