It was a moment in youth baseball that all parents dread – watching your child clutching his face after being hit by a pitch.
It happened this past Saturday. We had the 1:00 p.m. game on a hot afternoon. Ours was the home team, and I was the official scorekeeper. I sat on an elevated platform behind home plate with a close-up view of the action. My wife sat in the stands on the third base side. Our opponents kept us close, but they had to change pitchers because of pitch count rules.
Our team had started to open up the lead in the bottom of the fourth when my son came up to bat. The pitcher had two strikes on him, but he then threw one high and inside. Too inside. The ball landed on the side of his face.
In AA, where 8- to 10-year-olds are learning how to pitch, HBP’s are everyday occurrences. Our son has been hit plenty of times before – on the leg, the foot, and even on the head. Each time, he shrugged it off and headed to first. But this was one pitch he couldn’t shrug off. He covered his face and staggered to the dugout.
Even from where I sat behind home plate, it was hard to see exactly what happened. My mind went through all the terrible things that could have happened. If the pitch was thrown harder, it could have broken one or more teeth. If it were thrown a few inches higher, it would have smashed his metal-framed glasses and possibly injured his eye.
A few moments later, he emerged from the dugout. He seemed OK, because I know the coach would have had us take him to the hospital if he weren’t. If that happened, I would have rushed off with him; someone else would just have to keep score. The coach gave him a damp towel for his face to stop the bleeding and swelling. After a few moments, my son moved away from the towel and ran to first. He still clutching his mouth. We were relieved when he finally made it around the bases a few batters later to score.
He ran out to take his position in left center for the top of the fifth, but his coach saw that he was still hurting. He pulled him from the game and had him rest in the dugout.
We finally scored ten runs to the opponent’s zero. The game was called because of the mercy rule, but it was as much a mercy for our family as it was for the other team. We couldn’t wait to check on our son and make sure he was OK. All that happened was that he cut his lip and made it swell. Fortunately, no teeth were broken. His glasses (and more importantly, his eyes) were unharmed.
Our next fear was whether our son would become too afraid to bat. This happened to one of our friends. Their son was an excellent ballplayer, but he became so afraid of getting hit by a pitch that he gave up baseball. My wife and I were also nervous. We were having a great season, and my wife and son had become enthusiastic about baseball. Would the incident dampen our enjoyment of the game?
We didn’t have long to wait. The next game was Monday, two days later. The coach recommended that we get our son sports glasses, which offer more protection for his eyes. We found a place that could produce them in an hour. In the meantime, the swelling and pain subsided. But when I took him to batting practice, he admitted that he was a little nervous about getting back in the batters box. He showed me his white batting gloves that were tinted red from his blood. Now, I was nervous, but I didn’t want to let him know.
Game day arrived. This time, we were the visitors, so we got to bat first. My son was tenth in the order, so he didn’t come up to bat until the top of the second. If there was any nervousness in my son, he didn’t show it when he came up to the plate. He fouled off the first pitch, which went over the first-base dugout. The crowd gave an amazed “ah!” The second pitch was low and outside for a ball. The third, my son made contact and hit it hard towards the outfield. While the opponents made a play at the plate, my son made it safely to second. He would go 2-for-3 for the day and drive in a run. Our excitement for the game was back – especially for my son.
When we were packing his gear in the car after the game, he told me, “I’m not scared about getting hit by a pitch. I’ve been hit everywhere. It’s no big deal.”
As for the final score of Monday’s game? It really doesn’t matter. What was more important is that fear struck out.