When baseballs attack

March 26, 2012

By Darryl Webb

“I was really glad I saw it coming.”

I know that statement above sounds a little confusing so allow me to explain.

I don’t know how many professional sporting events I’ve covered in the last 20 years. Let’s just say it’s been a lot and in all that time I’ve never been hurt. There have been a couple of close calls here and there, but nothing serious until earlier this week.

Had I not seen this sphere coming toward me at a blistering speed, the end result could have been a lot worse. I’m not saying it would have been as bad as Sports Illustrated’s photographer John Iacono, who was hit by an overthrown ball in 1999, shattering his jaw which resulted in two titanium plates, some wire mess and something like 20 screws. But it definitely would have been worse than a headache, a bump on the head and two hours spent at Urgent Care.

As I stood in the first base photo well between innings, trying to figure another angle to shoot the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Albert Pujols, I saw Angels’ third baseman Mark Trumbo make a throw to first – a throw he’s made a million times I’m sure. But this time the trajectory was off, it had some extra height to it, and unless Pujols was suddenly 10 feet-tall that ball was headed in my direction.

Instincts took over – DUCK AND COVER.

The problem was I didn’t have much time, maybe 2 or 3 seconds at the most and I was standing on a 4-foot tall platform holding thousands of dollars worth of camera gear so I couldn’t just duck that easily. Instead I turned my cameras around, turned my back to the field and hunched over as much as I could. And waited.

A couple of seconds passed and I thought, “Oh it must of passed or someone caught it.” Then Mr. Rawlings said a big, nasty hello to the back of my head. It hit about three inches behind my ear. My hand immediately went to see if there was blood (no blood thank goodness).

I looked back to the field – why I don’t know – and all the players were looking my way.

Soon I was being asked if I was okay while members of the Japanese press corp were helping me get off the platform with all my gear. I was then greeted by one of the Angels’ medical trainers.

He asked me if I was OK and I was pretty sure I was. I didn’t see stars or blackout so I thought that was good sign. I asked for an ice pack, as the knot on the back of my head continued to grow bigger than Pujols’ bank account after he signed with the Angels!

The ice felt good, as I watched the action on the field all I could think about was, “I should be shooting that,” but I didn’t. A little voice in my head (which just so happened to sound eerily like that of my lovely wife) just told me to relax, so I did.

After that inning ended the most unexpected thing happened (at least to me, anyway). Trumbo, the culprit of the errant throw, came over to check on me and shortly after, the Angels’ starting pitcher C.J. Wilson stopped by to see if I was OK, which I thought was way cool.

I’ve dealt with professional athletes for years and most of them don’t care about us, so I didn’t expect the well wishes from those guys. They gained another fan, for not only being great baseball players but being even better human beings.

After feeling pretty good despite being hit by a baseball going some 70 or 80 miles an hour, I decided to call it a day. Pujols would only play one more inning at most and I was struggling to create different images of him since it was the seventh time I had shot him this spring.

As a photojournalist I’ve always tried to be stealth and have tried to blend in. I don’t like attention and I don’t want it. I’m there to do my job. I don’t want to be the news. But as I made my way up the stairs I heard people clapping so naturally I looked back to the field to see what they were clapping at, than I heard “Hey man how ya doing?” and “You ok?” I realized then they were clapping for me.

I didn’t even realize they could see into that part of the dugout, so the embarrassment kicked in. A couple of guys stopped me and asked if it ricocheted or if it was a direct hit. I laughed and told them I didn’t know since I was ducking for my life.

Gawd! I hope I never lose my sense of humor. On my way to my car a woman stopped me on the concourse to see how I was. She was a trauma nurse and really emphasized that I should get it looked at. After talking to my wife, that was the plan.

There was one little problem though – I was 53 miles from home and my wife insisted that I did not drive (I knew not to argue) so she got out of work early, drove over an hour in rush hour traffic to take me to Urgent Care.

I’ve got a great wife. Most wives probably wish they could have thrown the ball at their man, but not mine.

After two hours in the waiting room I saw a physician’s assistant who did the “follow the finger” test, touch your toes and close your eyes and touch your nose which got me a clean bill of health without an x-ray.

They couldn’t do an x-ray of the head there, but she thought since there was no blurred vision and I wasn’t knocked out I should be OK. So far, five days later, I am.

The knot has gone away, but the memory of getting beaned hasn’t. I’m still a little gun shy being in the photo well, but I’ve done three games since and that fear is waning. I’m sure with time and spring training ending next week, I’ll be back to my old self.

So just a little tip – if you’re shooting baseball keep your head on a swivel because you never know Mr. Rawlings might be headed your way.

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