Few people will ever know what it's like to look down the barrel of a loaded gun and survive. And pitching in the major leagues can sometimes feel just like that. The hitter is standing there, ready to do some damage with that bat in his hand. Sixty feet and six inches is not as far as you think.
So, to me, the rather unheralded return of Bryce Florie to the staff of the Boston Red Sox is one of this year's best sports stories.
|Red Sox pitcher Bryce Florie was hit by a line drive off the bat of Yankees outfielder Ryan Thompson.|
On Sept. 8 last year, strapping Yankees outfielder Ryan Thompson hit a bullet off of Bryce's face. Florie bled profusely and sustained several facial-bone fractures on the spot. Tests also revealed a significant loss of vision. I still get skittish just thinking about it.
Many (and I mean many) nights, I have awoken from a dream in which a line drive is going to hit me in the face. It's as frightening as the real thing, believe me. Whether it's thrown or hit, you don't want to be struck by a baseball during a game. Luckily, I have never had to recover from a horrific accident, as Bryce and many unfortunate pitchers and hitters have.
The closest I ever came to getting smoked was a spring-training game against the Cleveland Indians. I was just getting my innings in and was facing Hall-of-Famer Eddie Murray. He had always presented a problem for me and that day was no different. I had lost a little off the old heater and probably ran this outside fastball up there at about 90 to 95 mph. He drills it right back at me. Now, the way I finished my delivery didn't make fielding the ball a likely occurrence. But I didn't have time to think much about that.
It happened so fast. All I can remember was letting the ball leave my hand, and then it was right in front of my eyes. To this day, I still thank God for protecting me. I can't tell you how or why I caught the ball, but I was lucky. After that day, I never had the same confidence in my stuff again, and in a couple of years I was out of baseball.
You can play baseball for years and years, but sometimes mere moments define who we are and who we think we are. I had even been hit in the ankle in the minor leagues and broke my leg. That didn't faze me. But this one near-calamity had a much more profound effect on me.
That Bryce has the guts to go back out to the mound and battle big-league hitters again is a World Series-type victory in my book. I have been there, and it's not fun sometimes. You know what can happen but you play anyway. You do it because you have to.
Nolan Ryan once threw a pitch 98 mph, and it came back off the bat at him at more than 130 mph.
Some pitchers never make it back. Some pitchers simply stop progressing because of the fear factor. Mentally it's just too much to look down that barrel again and again. I once threw a pitch at 96 mph, and it came off the bat back at me at 121 mph. Nolan Ryan once threw a pitch 98 mph, and it came back off the bat at him at more than 130 mph.
Every pitcher gets drilled from time to time. It's just part of the job. I've been hit on every part of my body from my groin to my foot to my back. You have to get past it if you can. In Bryce Florie's third outing after coming back from the facial shot, he was struck again -- this time in the wrist. He wasn't injured (thank God) but he did have a flashback to last year's incident, because manager Jimy Williams and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan had those looks on their faces again. Until, of course, they saw that he was essentially OK.
No one would blame Florie for quitting after all he has been through. But I have such respect for him that I can't put it into words. Bryce Florie doesn't just have nightmares about being hit in the face by a batted ball. It happened to him. But with that knowledge comes something else. He also knows that he had what it took to come back from that nightmare and take the mound again in a major-league baseball game.
My hat's off to you, Mr. Florie.