Baseball is a non-contact sport. You hear it a thousand times (mostly from your football buddies who don’t quite grasp the concept that there are other sports, and don’t quite grasp the beauty of baseball). Yet, baseball is far from a non-contact sport. Just ask Chris Young, David Huff, Chris Jakubauskas, Hiroki Kuroda, or Juan Nicasio.
These are just a few relatively recent names that come to mind, but Nicasio’s is at the forefront. Nicasio took a line drive off his right temple, a location that has been a death sentence for others over time, and fell to the ground. He remained conscious but immediately realized his neck hurt. Thanks to the quick and smart work of his team trainers and medical personnel at the ballpark, Nicasio was immobilized to avoid any additional damage. It all happened August 5th, and Nicasio was back on the field waving to fans on August 16th. He had a fractured C1 vertebrae with surgically implanted screws and a metal plate, but he was walking and waving to his home-town fans.
Nicasio stares down death and severe injury every fifth day. Every pitcher that steps on the mound does the same. Batted balls generally come back at a velocity much higher than the actual pitch thrown. According to eFastball.com, the average batted ball speed (exit speed after contact) in Major League Baseball is 106.3 MPH. Let’s assume Nicasio’s was even slower than that. That means, he was still struck, in the temple no less, by a ball traveling anywhere between 95-100+ MPH. And knowing full well that to step back out on the mound means to face an increased exposure to 100 MPH baseballs rocketing towards his head, Nicasio can’t wait to start rehabing and pitching again.
In an Associated Press article today, Nicasio talked about the injury and his desire to come back. “I just want to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart,” Nicasio said. “I feel they saved me from being paralyzed or dying by making sure I wouldn’t move.” But even in the face of what could have turned out much worse, Nicasio said, “I want to pitch again.”
My guess is, he will.
Probably the last thing on Nicasio’s mind is how effective he will be if he returns, but it’s a legitimate question. Kuroda returned from the liner off his head against Arizona and has arguably pitched better. Young, on the other hand went from an All-Star with San Diego in 2007 to a struggling project pitcher with the Mets.
The recovery and the mental effects a pitcher goes through after being hit in the head differs for each person. And for Nicasio, he has the added hurdle of dealing with an injury never seen before in Major League Baseball.
Yet through it all, pitchers know the danger and continue to pitch. So the next time someone tells you baseball is a non-contact sport, remind them of Juan Nicasio.