August 17, 2011
Even the most optimistic person could not have pictured this moment back on Aug. 5.
That's the day Colorado Rockies rookie right-hander Juan Nicasio(notes) was struck on the right temple by a line drive off the bat of Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond(notes). The impact of the baseball, and the awkward fall that followed, left Nicasio with internal bleeding in his head and a fractured C-1 vertebrae.
Without question this was one of the scariest scenes we've seen play out on a baseball field in recent memory. You knew instantly Nicasio's season was over. When we heard reports about a neck injury, we worried about his overall prognosis first, and his baseball future second. When we heard C-1 fracture, we finally firmly grasped the reaility and severity of the situation.
"From my experience, or from what I've learned, it's usually diving accidents in shallow pools or car accidents," Rockies trainer Keith Dugger said. "That's the most common way to fracture that vertebrae. A high number of them have paralysis or, unfortunately, [death]."
That's how delicate this situation was for Nicasio. In that split second, he had gone from a pitcher on the rise, and perhaps the brightest spot in the Rockies 2011 season, to a young man fighting for his life. In fact, many believe that if it wasn't for the quick actions taken on the field by Dugger and the medical personnel on hand, an unspeakable tragedy could have occured right before our eyes.
Fortunately, that was not the case, and incredibly, Nicasio, who underwent extensive surgery to repair the C-1 in the early morning hours of Aug. 6, was able to leave the hosptial just five days later.
On Monday, just 10 days after the accident, Nicasio returned to the Coors Field clubhouse. Needless to say a lot of smiles and hugs were seen in that clubhouse as his Rockies teammates were finally able to begin their healing process from the emotional trauma they went through.
"Seeing him full of life, it's really encouraging," closer Huston Street(notes) said. "Baseball is totally the secondary focus in this matter. When you see someone on the ground, in the moment you assume they're going to be OK. Then, when you hear how truly close he came to being paralyzed or dead, you thank God for keeping him with us." [...]
"I can't begin to tell you how warm it is in that clubhouse seeing Juan Nicasio walking around here," manager Jim Tracy said. "This guy is some kind of tough, I've got to tell you."
On Tuesday, Nicasio took a few more steps on his long road to recovery. For the first since being carted off on the fateful day, Nicasio made the walk from the Rockies clubhouse and up the dugout steps. This time, it wasn't his job to overwhelm the Marlins with his electric fastball. Instead, he was to be recognized for inspiring us with his positive attitude, toughness and sense of humor in the face of his devastating injury.
He was greeted with a standing ovation from the 36,136 fans in attendance. As was his mother, who accompanied him on the field after only arriving to Denver on Sunday following visa issues in the Dominican Republic.
It all made for a wonderful moment to be shared by a player, his mother and the Colorado Rockies fans. But make no mistake, Nicasio intends for there to be many more just like it in the future.
"He's already said he's going to be a 20-game winner," Dugger said. "Right now, he has a baseball in his hands at all times."
Sounds crazy, but at this point, I wouldn't put anything past Juan Nicasio.