August 06, 2011
This season has been one constant reminder of not only how dangerous the game of baseball can be, but how dangerous the entire ballpark experience can be. We really didn't need another example, but unfortunately we got one on Friday night when Juan Nicasio(notes), a 25-year-old rookie right-hander for the Colorado Rockies, was stretchered off the field with a neck injury after being struck in the head by a line-drive comebacker.
On Saturday, Nicasio had neck surgery to "stabilize a fracture" in his C-1 vertebrae. At last official word, Nicasio was resting comfortably at a Denver hospital.
The scary injury occurred on the second pitch of the second inning when Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond(notes) reached out and smacked one sharply right back up the middle. With no time to react, Nicasio took the liner flush on the right side of his head. He then immediately crumpled to the ground after taking the hit, which by itself was vicious and cringe-worthy, but it appears the neck injury was actually sustained on the fall.
Replays seem to confirm this. When Nicasio went to the ground, he went down head first, jamming his unprotected head and neck before rolling over on his back.
For roughly five minutes Nicasio laid mostly still with some limited hand and arm movement. He was then cautiously placed in a neck brace. As he was being moved to the cart there was finally some more animated arm movement and the first signs of leg movement.
"Our main focus in that locker room right now is Juan," Tulowitzki said. "We're obviously very worried. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, and it's scary. We come out here and play baseball every day, and sometimes some crazy things can happen. It puts it in perspective."
Nicasio has been one of the few bright spots for Colorado this season since debuting on May 28. Amazingly, he's been very effective at Coors Field, posting a 4-0 mark with a 1.58 ERA. Pretty impressive for any rookie, but especially one that had never pitched above the Double-A level like Nicasio.
Of course Nicasio's injury is sure to spark another debate about pitcher safety in baseball. I honestly don't know what could be done to ensure that safety. A helmet? Maybe. But there are still going to be exposed areas on the face, the neck, and there's no way you can prevent a guy from a taking a bad fall like Nicasio's. Even with a helmet, you're going to be jarred, lose your balance, and be at risk.
There's always going to be something. The risks will never go away. It's just one of those things where you know the risks when you sign up. You just hope you're not the one the odds catch up with.
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