Friday, July 03, 2015

The Collision

Several summers ago,  I attended my high school reunion in Nebraska. On that trip, I watched an American Legion baseball game on the same field where I both played and coached. The following is a story about my only serious injury playing either basketball or baseball. Interestingly, I subsequently received a very nice e-mail from John Nootz, the other young man in the story. This is from May 30, 2006 and the picture above is the site of the story.
I heard the voice as I waited in the hallway Sunday after our evening worship service. A man introduced himself to another by saying, "I'm Bruce Tandy." It came from around the corner so I followed the sound. He didn't recognize me but it has been a very long time. Bruce Tandy was my American Legion Baseball coach in Nebraska many summers ago. He was in Houston with his wife, Sheila, preparing for a cruise that will depart from Galveston. I can't say when the last time I saw Bruce was but I'll never forget my most memorable hearing of his voice. At least I think it was eyes were closed.

I was sixteen and thought I was pretty smart. Our baseball team was typical of the times, athletes who played a number of sports instead of the specialization that dominates today. American Legion teams were staples in small, mid west towns, especially in Nebraska where few high schools opted to play baseball because of the harsh Spring weather. Our schedule was filled with comparable communities, like Aurora, that we could compete with and larger cities, such as Grand Island, where we had to play over our heads to keep it close. I knew Bruce from church and his job at York College, where my dad also worked. He was a good guy and a good coach with a sense of humor. His picture is even in my scrapbook. We were playing in Holdrege, another of those hamlets similar to my hometown of York. The picture is from the sports section of our local daily, the York News-Times, and I was at bat. Apparently, my swing resulted in one of my two hits that night but the caption fails to mention if we won or lost. Bruce is in the background, coaching third base.

One afternoon, we were on the road in Kearney, another team we rarely defeated. I was at third base, my position when I wasn't on the mound. Kearney had a runner on second base named John Nootz. (I would never remember except that his first cousin was from York.) A ground ball was hit to me which I fielded cleanly. As is the proper fundamental, I looked the runner back so he would remain at second, and threw the ball to first base, putting the batter out. John Nootz did what he was not supposed to do- he ran to third. Our first baseman, Mike Parr, made the throw back to me. Like many left handers, Mike's throws tended to tail away from the target. The ball came towards the third base foul line and I caught it. The only way to make the out on the runner was to dive back into the baseline, which I did. At that point, either John's knee or the spikes on his cleats collided with my head: no one was quite sure. I was rendered unconscious and lay on the base path on Memorial Field in Kearney, Nebraska in a pool of blood. The first thing I recall is that an umpire, obviously not used to head injuries, yelled, "Get a tourniquet!" Bruce's reply to this medical command was, "Where are you going to put it, around his neck?" Even in my semi-comatose state, I laughed, making it fairly certain I would survive. My dad NEVER went to out of town games...except this one. He took me to the emergency room where they stitched me up and allowed me to return to the ball park. As I descended the stairs to the dugout, I began vomiting, the mark of a concussion. Back at the hospital, I was admitted for the night and released the next afternoon. Injuries are hardest on mothers and mine was ninety miles to the east. Mom felt I had lasting effects from the injury. For a year, I had nosebleeds and stuttered occasionally but that was it. My baseball development continued, cresting with a slightly above average two year career in college. I never felt badly towards John Nootz. He was a good player and it was an accident. In fact, I was involved in two other American Legion Baseball collisions: one opponent was cut deeply by my batting helmet and one suffered a broken leg. It happens. Thanks to Google, I found a photo essay of Memorial Field and can point to the exact spot where I was hurt. I thought there might be a wreath or marker there commemorating the incident- there wasn't. I guess it's up to me to keep this little known baseball legend from fading into obscurity. And it all came back Sunday with the voice of Bruce Tandy.
PS: I held onto the ball. John Nootz was OUT!

Applicable quote of the day:
"Baseball is not a sport for the timid- with cleated collisions at the plate, walls to hit in pursuit of fly balls, and a thin wooden bat serving as the only defense against a 100 mph fastball."
Rick Aristotle Munarriz

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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