Stories From A Life

Been there. Done that. Writing about it.

Sally Swift

Sally Swift
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
June 14
VP, Repartee
Swift Retorts
sally: a journey, a venture, an expression of feeling, an outburst, a quip, a wisecrack ... me


APRIL 11, 2009 8:57PM

Joan's Worried About Joe, Joe's Worried About The Show

Rate: 15 Flag


"Evans said Martinez was up and talking and did not even seem to have a bad headache. Martinez spoke by phone with his parents in New Jersey, who unfortunately watched on TV as their son got hit." The San Francisco Chronicle

Joan Walsh, along with everybody at the Giants - Brewers game on Thursday, plus those watching on TV had a very scary experience when Giant's pitcher Joe Martinez was hit in the head by a line drive.

Joan wrote about it in a personal post that personally resonated with me. As the mother of a former baseball pitcher, I can relate. And, I can offer some comfort and perspective about the experience ... from the player's point of view.

Much like Joe Martinez, our son was a serious multi-sport athlete from childhood; in baseball a star pitcher. From Little League to city team to state team and beyond.

He played all through high school and was recruited by colleges, faced an agonizing decision. He's under 5'10" and eventually chose business school, believing the odds for long term success were much better there than in professional sports.

So far, the right choice. At 25 he's advancing nicely and pitches for his Unnamed Major Brokerage Company's baseball team. He doesn't regret the decision. At least not out loud.

I tell you all this not to brag (well, of course I'm proud) but to establish his athletic credentials and dedication to baseball, especially pitching. For many athletes, it's literally a calling.

They practice till they drop, throwing pitch after pitch after pitch. They work out, lift weights, attend sports camps which include state-of-the-art sports psychology. They take their training and their playing very seriously.

I also tell you this because Joe Martinez, only a year older, has a parallel background -- they attended competing regional prep schools and the same national sports camp. They played on similar local teams, were recruited by similar colleges.

At 6'2", 195 lbs. though, (yes, probably better, certainly stronger) Martinez chose to pursue the dream, paid his dues in baseball's minor leagues and is showing all the promise of his youthful years.

Back to my son. Because that's where the perspective on Thursday's near-tragedy comes in. At age 12 our son pitched for his team in the state championships, a chance to go on to the Little League World Series, nationally televised live every August from Williamsport, PA.

That game took place at "The Vet," aka Veterans Stadium, a legendary baseball venue, now gone. I got to watch my kid pitch at The Vet from the Phillie's home dugout. Talk about exciting.

But get ready, here it comes: In the fourth inning of a perfect game, our son threw a mean fastball to the half-ton-truck-size catcher for the opposing team. Who hit it back like a rocket ... right into our kid's face.

You could hear his nose break from the stands. He dropped to the mound like a stone.

I was frozen, much like Joan, much as we imagine Mrs. Martinez was Thursday as she watched on TV. Even though I was on site, once you're at the state level and beyond, mommies aren't allowed on the field.

So I watched as trainers and coaches went to him. As he walked off the field on his own, face swollen, blood pouring from his nose. Joined him for ice in the locker room, trip to the hospital. After the tests came back and a sports medicine team cleared him to come home, I finally started to cry.

Was he crying? No. Shaking with fear? No. He was shaken up, sure. But after the initial shock wore off, his focus was on the team. He wanted to know if they won. And when could he pitch next.

Yes, he was young. But old enough to recognize danger and potential consequences. Minimizing risk is something all well-trained athletes learn very early. Especially pitchers and soccer goalies, who stand alone, literally in harm's way. It comes with the territory.

In fact, that was the first of two broken noses, followed by a broken collarbone and three broken ankles, some also from soccer and basketball over the years. Once, on a national team he stayed in goal an entire soccer game on a broken ankle. They won, too.

My point: athletes don't think like you and me. Their mind set makes them necessarily more fearless than the average person. It's calculated courage, all about the game, the team, the ability to get the job done.

Do they worry about injury? Of course. But their nightmares are usually scenes of other players being hit and carried off the field. Their own concern is focused on the downside of not being able to play themselves.

Joe Martinez has been hurt in the past. He's got a concussion and some small fractures in his face. Not great, but tragedy averted. He's on the 15-day Disabled List, another pitcher's been brought aboard.

Martinez may need a little help getting ready for his next outing, but I'm guessing he's already looking forward to it. And is pissed he has to sit out some games and watch new competition.

The next time he's on the mound it'll take a few pitches, then he'll shake it off and you'll see ... it will be business as usual.

We'll all be worried. Martinez won't be thinking about being struck. He'll be concentrating on throwing strikes.

Way to go, Joe. Get well soon. Just stay away from the Phillies.

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Pitched into the feed for Joe. And Joan.
a completely different mentality, isn't it? Thanks for the insight!
Quite a story, glad your son wasn't permanently injured -- well, except for his nose. For all the shortcomings, nothing takes the place of sports. My mind says it's silly to get wrapped up in this stuff, but my heart still says I wanna be on the Wheaties box.
Great story, Sally. I can't imagine watching my child break his/her nose from the dugout and having to stay put! Agony. But yes, you're right to remind me of his mindset. I shouldn't doubt his capacity to pitch again, even if I can't imagine it.
I hate pain. I'm so frightened of needles that my blood pressure literally rose into the danger zone during a physical because I was dreading them taking blood. (When the nurse took the blood and *then* my blood pressure, I was fine.) I use to have a phobia about stinging insects; I did my best as a kid to talk my way out of fights.

And I was a soccer goalie. The crazy-ass kind who dove at people feet and jumped into the air in crowds to get the ball. (I also fenced. Saber. Before it went electric, when running attacks were legal.)

Sports are weird, aren't they?
Everyone should play sports. Well, that's not accurate. Sports are great. Any kid who plays a competitive sport past the 6th grade learns things his or her peers may not learn (if ever) until their 30s. Injury and risk is part of the game, as it is in life. But the culture of sports and of athletic competition helps people understand concepts such as teamwork and sacrifice and leadership, not to mention strategy and technique and how to win and how to lose, like nothing so much as years and years of experience itself. I say, Let's Play Ball! Or frisbee. Whatever. Clothing optional.
Sally you have this amazing feature reporter's gift to tie in the relevant and timely story to a personal experience. Many of us have stories, but few connect them to the moment as you do, or can even conjure them up. Much appreciated.
Sally--what I love about this is that you stripped away all the cliches that so often come with this subject. You are totally right---it is a different mindset. But that point gets glazed over in talk of heroes etc etc.

An important subject made wonderfully clear!
~~~caroline, yes, athletes have a very different mentality, even more so at the professional level. The elite are paid enormous sums, even in this recession, to use their talent at peak level. Sometimes they pay their own price.

~~~Tom, we have school pictures where you can see the nose become crooked from one year to the next, then straighten, then crooked again. Now of course it's been reset, we hope for good. And you're so right about the Wheaties box, I watch him watch baseball games and can feel his intense focus on each pitch.

~~~Joan, hope this took some of the "heebie jeebies" away from your memory of that game. Sorry if I gave you a few more with my story (eek). It was always hard for me, but knowing I'd publicly humiliate my son--and that he was in good hands--kept me in my seat.

And it's not only about fear of injury. The heat is highest on the pitcher; they're the crucible of the team -- literally charged with wining or losing the game. So their egos have to be strong and their determination steely. Martinez will get a standing ovation at the start of his next game... but will soon be the goat if they lose.

~~~Douglas, you're not the first athlete I've known to fear needles or other things off the field and be dangerously fearless as a player. Our son was your kind of soccer goalie and has a very high pain tolerance but hates bees.

~~~jimmy, thank you.

~~~Lonnie, I'm with you, they should all play something (at school age, probably with clothes on ;). Beyond T-ball, I detest the concept of giving every kid a trophy just for showing up. Sports are the best practice for the real world's demands for, as you say so well, "teamwork and sacrifice and leadership, not to mention strategy and technique and how to win and how to lose.."

~~~Lea, thank you so much (and glad to see you back, where's the uh, lovely Leah?) I guess it is a gift; whenever I hear an interesting, unusual or tragic story, my personal experiences just leap into my mind. I never thought of it that way, but it makes sense that I'd be attracted to feature writing.