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Authors: Gene Fehler

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BOOK: Beanball
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It wasn't until later that I remembered

my son, Gordie, was due up after Luke.

 

It could just as easily have been him.

Willard Kominski, longtime Oak Grove baseball fan

I've read about career-threatening and career-ending injuries

to big league players hit by pitches or batted balls:

Herb Score, Dickie Thon, Tony Conigliaro,

Don Zimmer, Bryce Florie—and worst of all,

Ray Chapman, killed by a pitch.

 

And I saw a kid break his leg once sliding into second.

It was a compound fracture—the bone sticking right out,

pinpoint sharp and glistening in the sun.

That was the worst thing I ever saw on a ball field.

Until now.

 

I still see it all in slow motion,

hear the sounds:

The pitcher shouting.

A crack, but not like when ball hits bat or helmet.

The sound of bone shattering.

 

Then silence. I know it lasts only for a split second,

but with Luke lying there, it seems more like an eternity

before screams come from everywhere.

 

Probably even from me,

but I don't remember that.

Kyle Dawkins, Compton pitcher

Oh, God! I didn't mean to hit him.

I'd walked two guys,

and Oak Grove bunted them to second and third.

That's when Coach came out

and told me to throw inside.

“Move him off the plate.

Then you can work him outside,” he said.

 

Sure.

 

Like I can spot the ball wherever I want.

 

I should have followed Pete's lead.

He set up the target right down the middle,

and I should have thrown it there.

Not many can hit my good fastball.

 

Instead, I listened to Coach.

The pitch got away from me. Too far in.

I tried to shout, but there wasn't time.

I still can't believe it.

The sound.

The blood.

Wallace in the dirt.

 

The ambulance is gone, but I still hear the siren.

I still see Wallace's bloody face.

And look . . . my hands.

I can't stop them from shaking.

Roland Zachary, baseball scout

You always hate to see a kid get hit in the head.

You especially hate to see

a prospect like Dawkins bean someone.

Some young pitchers never recover from it.

They're afraid to pitch inside again—

and they're done.

I wonder how Dawkins will deal with it.

Michelle Wallace, Luke's mother

Somebody told me later

it took six minutes from the time Luke got hit

till the ambulance arrived.

It seemed longer.

I ran toward him.

I wanted to lift him up, hold him,

do something to help.

 

There was so much blood.

 

I remember somebody grabbing me,

holding me back, keeping me from my son.

I remember Sally bending down over Luke

for the longest time.

I remember thinking it should be me

by his side, making his pain all better,

because I'm his mother and that's what mothers are for.

 

But it was somebody else's mother,

and I knew I was failing him.

My little boy was covered with his own blood,

lying in the dirt in pain,

and I couldn't do a single thing to help him.

Sarah Edgerton, Oak Grove student

Luke's the only reason I came to the game.

And then to see that happen . . .

Oh, Luke!

 

When I moved to Oak Grove three weeks ago,

he was the first person who talked to me.

That was even before I entered the building.

“Hi,” he said. “You're new, right?”

“I am,” I said. “Are you the official greeter?”

I smiled at him, and he smiled back.

“Unofficial. But I keep my eyes open

for anyone who'll make our school even better

than it already is.”

He looked right at me with his beautiful blue eyes.

He made me feel as if I'd already found a friend.

I hoped we'd be in some of the same classes, and we are.

 

The bad thing is, he's already dating someone.

A girl named Melody. She's so . . .

Well, maybe I'd like her if I knew her better.

I admit, I'm probably a little jealous.

 

The good thing is, last week in English

Mrs. Trucelli told us to pair up for a research project,

and Luke asked me to be his partner.

I couldn't believe it. I said yes, of course.

 

He didn't invite me to the baseball game,

but I'd heard kids talking about what a good player he is.

I just had to come see.

 

How could something like this happen?

Red Bradington, Compton coach

It's a hell of a thing,

a boy getting hit in the head like that.

But that's baseball.

 

Some people might blame me

for telling Dawkins to pitch him inside,

but that's part of the game.

 

Did I want Dawkins to hit the kid?

Hell, no.

But I'd make the same call again

in that situation.

 

It was a fluke, the ball getting away

from Dawkins like that.

A damn shame.

 

But that's baseball.

You have to play it straight

Aggressive.

You can't back off.

 

A couple inches higher,

the ball hits the helmet—

maybe a harmless, glancing blow,

or, at worst, the kid gets a mild concussion.

 

It's a damn shame this happened,

but it's nobody's fault.

Daryl Hucklebee, Oak Grove coach

As a coach, you want nine players like the Wizard.

He can pluck a ball out of the air

the way a magician plucks a coin from someone's ear.

You see it, but you don't believe your eyes.

He could patrol big league outfields right now,

the way he handles the glove.

And hustle, attitude, desire . . .

the Wizard's got it all.

 

That's why it's a mystery,

him freezing on that inside pitch.

I replay it in my mind over and over—in slow motion—

the ball coming at him, and me wanting to shout,

“Look out!”

 

But there isn't time.

Luke doesn't move.

He just stands there

and lets the pitch take him down.

 

Every time I run that replay in my mind,

it turns out the exact same way.

No matter how many times I yell,

“Look out!”

I can't change the ending.

Pete Preston, Compton catcher

We won. So they say.

But it don't mean crap.

There wasn't a lot of bragging or joking around

on the bus going home.

 

Their coach stopped the game.

After Wallace got hit,

Hucklebee could have put in a runner for him,

and they would have had the bags loaded

with their left fielder, Anderson, up.

He's their best hitter—maybe the best in the conference.

Kyle was done. He wasn't going to face another batter,

no matter what.

 

But as soon as the ambulance left, Hucklebee said,

“That's all for today.”

So that was the ballgame.

 

The only thing Coach Bradington said was,

“Three-two, us. It goes in the books as a win.”

Daryl Hucklebee, Oak Grove coach

The waiting room is crowded.

I know not everyone is here because of Luke,

but a lot of people are—guys from the team,

kids from school.

Luke's parents are here,

and they're pretty shook up.

Who can blame them?

 

All we can do is wait. And pray.

The only real news we've heard

since Luke was brought in

is that he's alive, thank the Lord.

Nancy Keller, Andy and Clarissa's mother

The minute we got the phone call from Andy,

my husband and daughter and I came right to the hospital.

Andy had gotten a ride with somebody; he was there already.

Luke has been like a son to me for years.

I just don't know what we'll do, what Andy will do, if . . .

 

I see Luke's parents, Michelle and Larry.

If I feel this awful, this scared,

I can only imagine how they must feel.

Dalton Overmire, Compton shortstop

After I got home from the game,

I grabbed a bite to eat and drove to Felicia's.

Just my luck her parents were there

and she couldn't leave the house.

We didn't even have a chance to make out.

 

We watched a rerun of my favorite sitcom,

one of the funniest episodes ever.

Felicia's mother came in once

to see why we were laughing so hard.

 

Hanging out with Felicia

made me forget about Wallace

until I was driving back home.

It always made me jealous

that he got special treatment,

but I sure wouldn't trade places with him tonight.

Michelle Wallace, Luke's mother

When the doctor comes into the waiting room,

his face has the look of death.

There isn't even a hint of a smile.

 

Larry's arm tightens around me.

I try to prepare myself,

but I feel faint.

 

When he tells us they had to insert a cranial drain

to try to reduce swelling in Luke's brain,

I feel what can almost be called relief.

Dr. Wesley Hunter, ophthalmologist

It's touch-and-go, but we reduced the swelling.

There's still danger of further hemorrhaging,

but we stabilized him for now.

We have to wait to do further surgery.

 

A key concern is whether he'll lose his sight.

There's no hope for the left eye;

the damage is too massive.

The question now is: Can we save the right eye?

 

The next several hours are critical.

Larry Wallace, Luke's father

The doctors still don't know

when Luke will regain consciousness.

Or even
if
he will.

 

He's got a lot of broken facial bones.

The eye specialist, Dr. Hunter, talked to us.

He said something about an orbital fracture.

He said he was concerned about what he called

“a vitreous and possibly retinal hemorrhage.”

I'm not sure exactly what that means.

All I know is that it doesn't sound good.

 

They can't operate yet.

They have to reduce the swelling first.

The hardest thing is just sitting here waiting.

I want to know that they're doing something.

I
want to do something.

But the only thing I can do

is pace and sit and pace and sit some more

and keep asking why this had to happen.

 

Luke, my boy.

Please, God.

Please.

Randy Wallace, Luke's grandfather

Elizabeth and I set out the second we got the call.

We live almost three hours from Oak Grove—

with normal driving, that is.

We made it a lot quicker tonight.

In fact, it's surprising I didn't get a speeding ticket.

Not that I was even worried about that.

 

I still can't believe it's Luke

whose life is on the line.

I had a health scare last year—

had to have quadruple bypass surgery.

It turned out fine. No complications.

I'm exercising now and feeling better

than I have in years.

 

When I was in the hospital,

I could tell that Luke was worried about me.

I told him, “Don't you fret.

I give you my firm promise:

I'm going to be around to see you play in the big leagues.”

 

Luke was scared I was going to up and die on him.

Now here I am, strong as a horse, afraid for Luke.

Go figure.

Elizabeth Wallace, Luke's grandmother

My husband, Randy, is crazy about sports.

If he's not out playing golf, he's watching it on TV.

That and baseball, football, hockey, basketball,

and . . . well . . . just about everything else.

I've never shared his interest,

and our two daughters never played sports.

They're both married, but so far

only our son, Larry, has given us a grandchild: Luke.

Now I'm hoping that if our daughters ever do have kids,

they won't encourage them to play sports.

 

Luke's like his father and grandfather:

sports mean everything to him.

I'll attend any school or church program

Luke is in—plays or music, things like that.

But I skip his games.

He knows I love him and I'm happy for him

in whatever he does.

I just don't enjoy watching sports,

and the men in my life accept that.

 

Even after all these years of being around such ardent fans,

I've never understood the hold sports has on them.

 

Now I understand it even less.

Willard Kominski, longtime Oak Grove baseball fan

I couldn't sleep.

So I got up around midnight

and tried to watch some TV,

but I couldn't concentrate.

BOOK: Beanball
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