“You just don’t have enough time.”By now, most of you know those were the words last week of “The Cowboy” Jeff Brantley on the Reds radio broadcast after he saw pitcher Aroldis Chapman targeted by a line drive back to the mound in an exhibition game with the Kansas City Royals. Brantley pitched for many years in the majors so he was certainly qualified to comment on how dangerous being on the mound can be.
The incident happened in a late game last Wednesday night and I didn’t find out about it until I watched the news before I drove to work on Thursday morning. Like most of you, I immediately went searching for the video. There it was-Chapman in his familiar windup, bringing to the plate a 99 mile per hour fastball. The swing by the Royals’ Salvador Perez sent the ball screaming back toward Chapman at an estimated 110 miles per hour.
What happened next looked like a man gunned down by a sniper as the line drive connected with Chapman’s face and he went down very quickly as players, coaches, and trainers raced to his assistance and everyone automatically feared the worse, and I just cringed every time I watched it. As it turned out, the Cuban Missile was fortunate. or so doctors say, that the ball struck him right above the eye in what doctors described as “the strongest bone in the face.” That is if anyone can be fortunate after getting smashed in the face by a wicked line drive.
The whole incident took everyone back to the debate about keeping pitchers safe. You may recall Oakland pitcher Brandon McCarthy also getting hit with a line drive in 2012, suffering a fractured skull and near life-threatening injuries. 60 feet, 6 inches away from the batter. After the delivery, especially with a tall pitcher like Chapman, closer to 50 feet away from the batter. Brantley was correct-there is not time to react. It was reported that Chapman had about four tenths of a second before the ball struck him. What can you do in four tenths of a second? You couldn’t even read that last question in that time.
Major League Baseball has addressed the issue by approving a type of helmet that pitchers can wear under their hat for protection, but obviously that would not have done Chapman a bit of good. I have not seen a local high school or Knothole pitcher wearing any type of helmet protection when they are on the mound either. Should they be? As the bats that kids are using every year get better and stronger, the ball remains the same and the pitcher remains at the mercy of line drives. Should high schools and Knothole associations be thinking about protecting their pitchers? You will see a lot of softball pitchers and infielders now wearing the protective masks, no matter how aesthetically pleasing it might not be. It is still better than taking a softball in the face.
I have coached Knothole baseball for many years and I am lucky to say that I have never had a pitcher go down with this kind of injury. Maybe they couldn’t throw enough strikes to even worry about it. My son never had the urge to pitch, mainly because he didn’t have a pitcher’s arm, therefore he became a pretty good second baseman. He eventually pitched one inning in a Knothole game and gave up no runs. He will retire from the mound with that 0.00 earned run average and no line drives his way.
I pitched many years as a youngster, even back in the days of wooden bats (that just aged me), and I can never recall a line drive ever getting close to be. My only pitching injury came on a pop up between the mound and the plate where I collided with the catcher and his mask sliced open my chin. It’s different now. Much as they did with the Six Million Dollar Man, they are making athletes bigger, stronger, and faster, and better than before.
What happens now to the mindset of Aroldis Chapman? I am certain that through the magical wonders of social media you have seen the photos of his head (post-surgery) to have a titanium plate put in his head. He visited the Reds clubhouse earlier this week and looked as if he had gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson. When he steps back on the mound for the first time facing a live hitter, what will he be thinking? Do I slow down that fastball a little so it doesn’t come back at me so hard? I can’t imagine that the whole incident from last week won’t be in his mind somewhere. Reds fans and the media will be anxiously awaiting that day and it is certainly a whole new column on how Chapman’s injury affects the team that goes into a brutal schedule in the month of April without a known commodity as closer.
Now as I begin next week to venture out to local high school baseball and softball games, I will be watching closely at the pitchers, wondering if they have any new fears after seeing the Chapman video. While on this job, I have never seen a pitcher struck by a line drive and here’s hoping that when this spring season ends, I can still make that statement.
Mark Carpenter can be reached at 937-544-2391 or on Twitter @adamscopsorts.