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December 06, 2001

Pitchers stand in line of fire
By Rob Dibble

When Bryce Florie of the Boston Red Sox was struck in the face recently by a wicked line drive off the bat of the Yankees' Ryan Thompson, many fans might naturally think that every pitcher on every pitch must have a bit of fear running through his mind that such a thing could happen to him. At any moment.

Bryce Florie
Red Sox pitcher Bryce Florie was hit by a line drive off the bat of Yankees outfielder Ryan Thompson.

Well, believe it or not, that is not the case.

Former big leaguer Norm Charlton is one of my best friends and my former roommate with the Cincinnati Reds. And he has been hit twice in the face by a batted ball.

I caught up with him as he was driving to a fishing tournament, and we talked a bit about Bryce and the dangers that come with pitching at the big-league level. But first let me quickly give you a little background on one of my favorite people on this planet.

Norm graduated from Rice University with not one, but three, degrees. Of the three Nasty Boys, he was not only the toughest of us, but together with his 95-mph fastball and unhittable forkball, Norm had the best stuff, physically and mentally.

The play that sums up Stormin' Norman the best would have to be a time he was scoring from first base on a double. Norm barreled over one of the best home plate-blocking catchers of all time, Mike Scoscia. To this day, it still stands as one of the greatest plays I ever witnessed at the major-league level. Pitchers just don't do that!

I used to prepare myself for standing in front of major-league hitters during batting practice. I would stand at third base when the likes of Chris Sabo and Eric Davis were hitting.

Anyone who ever watched these guys during BP knows this isn't a very smart undertaking due to the fact that these gentlemen rip shots at you so hard it freaks out the toughest of players. After that, I was ready to stand 60 feet, six inches from anyone.

Anyway, back to Mr. Charlton. When Norm was playing for the Phillies, he was pitching to hard-hitting center fielder Steve Finley. He threw an inside fastball to Finley, who ripped a line drive off Norm's forehead, breaking several bones in his face and skull, and cutting a gash about eight inches long across his head.

And let me tell you, he doesn't blame Steve at all. He blames himself for not getting the ball inside enough. That's my boy.

Naturally, everyone rushed to his aid, and when the trainer asked him a few simple questions like, "What day is it?" or, "What is your birthday?" Norm had no clue. But he did say he wanted to stay in the game, even if he didn't know where he was.

Major-league pitchers never give in and they never give up. They don't bring fear to the mound. They can't. They have to bring confidence.

Needless to say, Norm pitched two days later. When I called to see if he was OK, and Norm is very proud of this, all he could say is, "I never fell down. I only went to one knee."

Is this guy great or what?

The second time he got drilled was off the bat of Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas. Same pitch, this time a broken nose, and as Norm puts it, "Had I not gotten a piece of it with my glove, I'd be eating steak with my six front teeth out and sitting next to my plate."

I asked him what it was like when he took the mound after the first incident. "I never thought about it consciously," Charlton said. "The rage I felt made me go out there and want to attack the hitters as soon as possible."

What he didn't realize was that when there was a line drive hit to the shortstop, he cowered like it was hit right at him. He didn't know he was doing this, until his teammates, laughing at him when he came back to the dugout, told him to go watch the play on videotape.

We talked at length about what Bryce may face on the road back to the mound. Obviously, he has to recover from his injuries. We hope and pray that he fully regains his sight. Then, it might not be as hard as people think.

What makes pitchers the way they are, and why only a select few ever get to the big leagues, is a belief in your own abilities -- a belief that if you throw your pitches where you want them to go, the batters have no chance. And if you fail tonight, they're going to have to beat you again and again, night after night, because major-league pitchers never give in and they never give up.

That is why major league pitchers don't bring fear to the mound. They can't. They have to bring confidence.

Norm and I totally agree that what happened to Bryce was an awful sight. But that special quality, which we can't fully explain, that gets us to the big leagues in the first place, should and will get Bryce Florie back on the mound and kicking ass in no time at all.

I want to say to Bryce that we're all praying for you, not only to get back on the playing field but also to make a full recovery. Best of luck.

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Red Sox pitcher Bryce Florie talks about the events surrounding his eye injury.
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Bryce Florie remains positive during his road to recovery after his career-threatening eye injury.
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