It took about a third of a second for a rocket of a line drive to blast Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ in the head. It was faster than the blink of an eye, leaving fans in stunned silence as Happy was taken off the field.
Less than 24 hours later, despite having a skull fracture, Happ left the hospital feeling very fortunate.
“It must have caught me in a better spot because I think it could have got me head on,” he said.
With the ball speeding toward him at about 120 mph, Happ didn’t have time to react. It’s a professional hazard for pitchers.
Fortunately, it only happens, on average, about two times a season. But when it happens, it’s serious.
Last season, three major league pitchers were beaned by batters’ line drives, each harder to watch and sometimes bloodier than the other. Major League Baseball is working on solutions, but nothing is imminent.
The league is considering new protection for pitchers, including cap liners produced out of bulletproof Kevlar. But that would protect only protects 40 percent of the head, leaving 60 percent of the face still exposed.
“I don’t think we’re going to see any headgear for pitchers. I don’t think they’re going to want to wear it,” concussion expert Dr. Gillian Hotz said. “So I think, right now, we can look at all these different types of equipment and maybe something will fit. But up ’til now, I don’t think we have anything that will work.”
This isn’t just a problem for the big leagues. Little League is also looking for a solution. Doctors worry especially about children under 16 whose brains are still developing and, therefore, the ramifications of being hit with a ball could be worse.
High school pitcher Gunnar Sandberg spent a month in a coma after being hit by a line drive.
“That’s what we worry about with kids that are younger than 16-years-old, still brain developing, and we are really concerned about multiple hits and the repeated, we call them, sub-concussive blows,” Hotz said.
Officials are so concerned, they are working with sports equipment companies to develop a pitcher’s helmet for kids and teens.
In the meantime, Little Leaguers are now coached to finish their pitch in a fielding position with a glove near the face. It’s the best method we have right now to prevent an injury that happens in the blink of an eye.