May 27, 2011
If doctors had their way, Rylan Anderson's baseball season would have ended on April 12. That's the day that the Gunnison (Utah) High slugger, who splits time between being a pitcher and a catcher, was drilled in the face by a fastball, suffering a broken nose, numerous broken bones in his face and, nearly, dramatic brain injuries as a result.
If the pitch had been a curveball, like Anderson expected it would, he might have escaped unscathed. If he had made less of an effort to anticipate where the pitch would break, he might have just been hit on the shoulder or the back. Instead, the ball made direct contact with the junior's face, creating what Gunnison coach Jared Anderson told the Salt Lake Tribune's Kyle Goon was "a mushy sound."
"He went down face-first after getting hit," Gunnison told the Tribune. "There was blood everywhere. You could tell just by looking at him that his nose was broken and he was just damaged. And when our team saw that, it just took the wind out of our sails."
While doctors insisted that Anderson shouldn't return to action this season after intensive surgery, the junior stalwart had other ideas. After watching his team play eight games without him -- winning six -- he couldn't take sitting on the sidelines anymore.
Sparked to action, Anderson went to his doctor's and proposed a compromise: He would return to play in games, but would wear special protective face gear. The result makes for unique visuals when Anderson is on the mound as he hurls pitches and provides icy stares from behind a white facial shield. While effective, the new protective head gear also looks like it could have been a prototype for a prop from "The Man in the Iron Mask." His batting helmet has also added a full cage, while his catching equipment remains just as it was before he was injured.
The new equipment hardly hindered Anderson's traditional dominance. The Tribune reported that in Gunnison's first playoff game, Anderson pitched a complete-game shutout behind his new mask. In its second game, he threw out three base runners who were attempting to steal.
And after all was said and done, the junior star could look back on a harrowing afternoon that could have ended his season -- or, possibly, his life -- without malice and with a sense of perspective on where baseball fits in his larger existence, encouraged in large part by frequent visits from the pitcher who accidentally hit him, North Sevier (Utah) High starter Colton Piep.
"I'm just glad for all the support," Rylan says. "I felt like everyone was rooting for me, and it made me feel pretty blessed."