Authors: Gene Fehler
It wasn't until later that I remembered
my son, Gordie, was due up after Luke.
It could just as easily have been him.
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 Florieâand 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 fractureâthe bone sticking right out,
pinpoint sharp and glistening in the sun.
That was the worst thing I ever saw on a ball field.
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.
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.
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.
Wallace in the dirt.
The ambulance is gone, but I still hear the siren.
I still see Wallace's bloody face.
And look .Â .Â . my hands.
I can't stop them from shaking.
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 againâ
and they're done.
I wonder how Dawkins will deal with it.
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.
Luke's the only reason I came to the game.
And then to see that happen .Â .Â .
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 .Â .Â .
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?
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?
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
You can't back off.
A couple inches higher,
the ball hits the helmetâ
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.
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 .Â .Â .
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 overâin slow motionâ
the ball coming at him, and me wanting to shout,
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,
I can't change the ending.
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 hitterâmaybe 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.”
The waiting room is crowded.
I know not everyone is here because of Luke,
but a lot of people areâguys 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.
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 .Â .Â .
I see Luke's parents, Michelle and Larry.
If I feel this awful, this scared,
I can only imagine how they must feel.
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.
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.
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.
The doctors still don't know
when Luke will regain consciousness.
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.
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.
Elizabeth and I set out the second we got the call.
We live almost three hours from Oak Groveâ
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 yearâ
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.
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 .Â .Â . well .Â .Â . 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 inâplays 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.
I couldn't sleep.
So I got up around midnight
and tried to watch some TV,
but I couldn't concentrate.