Forum: A come-backer line drive no match for the Comeback Kid

There’s no scarier moment for a parent than to see your child injured, except for the thoughts that follow.

By Cory Armstrong-Hoss / Herald Forum

The baseball world has a word for a ball hit directly to the pitcher: a comebacker.

On an early April day at Funko Field, Everett High’s varsity was playing against Kamiak. Parents huddled in jackets and beanies on an overcast, windy day as the game went into the bottom of the third inning.

Trainer Kaela Knight, a physical therapist who works athletic competitions for Everett schools, had just gotten to the game.

“That was my only game of the night,” she said. Kaela was hanging out by the Everett dugout when she saw the comebacker. “I heard the crack of the bat, and I saw your son get hit. He went down right away, dropped like a rock.”

The line drive hit my son Cole in the head and he went down.

“I busted my butt to get out there. I take concussions seriously, especially if the kid doesn’t get up right away. The first thing; he’s not unconscious. Not bleeding severely. No concussion symptoms. I just wanted to get him off to the emergency room as fast as possible.”

My wife, our friends Star and Judy and I were sitting in the bleachers on the first-base side at Funko, behind the net that protects fans from foul balls. In that moment, there were only two things: my son, and the things that were between me and him.

I ran down the ramp, through the gate, to the mound, my wife right behind me. Cole was on his back, with coaches close by, and Kaela was stabilizing his head between her hands, asking him questions in a calm voice:

“Do you know where you are? Do you know the score of the game? Do you know your parents’ names?

He was lucid, responsive, breathing hard. I was sitting next to him on his left, my left palm pressing down on the middle of his chest, feeling it rise and fall, holding steady and firm like I did when he was young and small and so upset he couldn’t catch his breath. Not saying anything. Not knowing what to say.

Kaela determined there was no major concussion or neck injury, that Cole was OK to move, and we got him standing up. My wife, a nurse practitioner and school nurse, grew calm, clear and decisive in crises: We needed ice. We needed to get Cole to our van. We needed imaging.

Did he have a concussion? Was his jaw fractured? His teeth broken? Would he lose any vision in his right eye?

Would he have headaches, light sensitivity, trouble concentrating? Would he have a jaw wired shut, his season ended, the spring of his sophomore year — as he’s so close to getting his license and having the world open up — down-shifted and muted into the tedium of homeschooling and smoothies and hours on the couch?

Would he pitch again? Would he do the thing he loved more than anything? Or, like many others before him, would he try, but never be quite the same, his pitching mechanics thrown off by the constant fear of being hit, the shadow of one line drive causing Cole to flinch or duck after each throw?

The right side of his face continued to swell in the waiting room, while I drove to the McDonald’s on Colby Avenue for tasteless meal combos and a chocolate shake for my son. They took X-rays on his jaw, and nothing was broken. No signs of concussion.

The ball had hit him in the right cheek. An inch or two lower, it probably would’ve broken his jaw. A couple inches higher, he might have a concussion or worse: a traumatic brain injury.

My wife’s anxiety about bad things is, like most crisis-responders, on a time-delay. The next morning she was up early, buzzing around with nervous-Mom energy, making eggs and scones from scratch, nagging Cole about keeping ice on his face, which had swollen two to three times the size and had a red ring around where the ball hit.

About five days later, Cole talked to his pitching coach about getting back out there. Would he start again next Friday against league-leading Jackson High, keeping his spot in the pitching rotation?

He said he was ready, and the head coach gave him a shot. Cole was nervous getting out there, in the bottom of the first, that shadow chasing him, trying to take up residence in his head, whispering into his ear. But Cole would have none of it. He threw for five innings and only gave up one run, and kept pitching the next weeks: against Lake Stevens and Glacier Peak.

I am not confident that I’d have the same fortitude at 15 as he does, to not let one pitch, one hit, dictate his future.

To show his coaches and his teammates, and himself: the real meaning of a comebacker.

Cory Armstrong-Hoss lives in Everett with his wife and three kids. His kids have played a number of different sports. He’s a lifelong athlete, and he’s served as a coach, ref, youth sports administrator and snack coordinator.

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