Sandberg recovering, eager to return to baseball
By JANIE McCAULEY AP Baseball Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Gunnar Sandberg unbuttoned his white Athletics jersey and revealed a black Giants T-shirt underneath just before he met San Francisco closer Brian Wilson.
Good move, kid.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Wilson quipped.
Both teams hosted the 16-year-old Sandberg for Sunday’s finale of the Bay Bridge Series, just more than two months after the Marin Catholic High School pitcher was hit by a line drive during a March 11 scrimmage and suffered a life-threatening brain injury.
“It’s cool,” a beaming Sandberg said of Sunday’s tribute.
The De La Salle player who hit the ball, Zac Byers, joined Sandberg and his father at the game, as did Sandberg’s teammates and Byers’ coach, Rick Steen. A’s players signed Sandberg’s jersey, he visited both clubhouses and spent time on the field during batting practice. Giants left-hander Barry Zito, who called Sandberg’s mother after the accident, met with the pitcher for several minutes.
“He just said good luck and he’s glad to see I’m doing well,” said Sandberg, who is in a rehabilitation program four days a week.
Zito and A’s closer Andrew Bailey each presented the pitcher with special souvenirs: autographed bats from both teams and a wooden, diamond-shaped plaque with Sandberg’s photo from a visit with the Giants to throw out the first pitch May 6. Sandberg is a bigger Giants fan but insists he likes both Bay Area teams.
Fans even hollered greetings of encouragement Sandberg’s way.
A video tribute showed on the main scoreboards and Sandberg - with his teammates surrounding the mound - threw out the ceremonial first pitch, caught by Byers. Sandberg accompanied Oakland manager Bob Geren to exchange lineup cards before the game.
Then, his group headed for a luxury box.
“He sounds like a great kid,” Geren said. “It sounds like a great story where he’s bouncing back. There’s a lot of courage.”
Sandberg, who will have another surgery Tuesday, plans to play baseball again next season - but maybe just as a middle infielder. After the upcoming procedure to replace a bone flap that was removed, Sandberg hopes he doesn’t have to wear a protective helmet all the time.
“I’m pretty excited I won’t have to wear a helmet anymore,” he said.
Even so, when he gets back on the field he’ll wear it just in case he gets hit again.
After he was hit by the line drive, doctors had to remove part of Sandberg’s skull to relieve brain swelling. He spent time in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator until he was strong enough to move to a rehab facility in San Francisco for physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Marin County Athletic League banned metal bats and now requires its 10 teams to use wooden bats, some of which were donated by the A’s and Louisville Slugger. Earlier this month, a California legislative committee advanced a bill that would place a two-year moratorium on the use of metal bats in high school baseball - a response to safety concerns following Sandberg’s frightening injury.
“Wood’s a great idea if it can save one more kid from going through this,” Sandberg said.
That day was his first outing as a pitcher - Sandberg typically plays second base or shortstop, the positions where he will likely return once he’s cleared to play again.
Sandberg acknowledged there will always be some fear.
“It will probably be in the back of my mind a little bit but I won’t be too scared about it, especially if I’m wearing a helmet,” he said.
The De La Salle team kept Sandberg’s uniform with them for every game and even had hats made with “MC 17” stitched on the back for Sandberg’s school and uniform number.
“It’s a great day just to see Gunnar out there and able to throw a baseball,” Steen said. “A miraculous recovery.”
For each $28 field-level ticket sold by the A’s for Sunday’s game, $5 went to the Gunnar Sandberg Fund. Sandberg’s teammates also collected donations to help with his medical costs and sought signatures in the effort to ban the use of metal bats in all of the North Coast Section of the California Interscholastic Federation.
Both Sandberg and Byers have appreciated the outpouring of support.
“This is the best feeling I could probably have with this situation,” Byers said. “I just like to see Gunnar. I was praying a lot for him. It was hard to keep playing, but I played because I knew he loved playing.”