Every once in a while, we get a reminder of how dangerous sports can be. The gruesome injury to Kevin Ware in this year’s NCAA basketball tournament was proof that everything happening on the court, or on the field, or on the ice, carries some degree of risk. Great strides have been made to minimize these risks, but they’re always going to exist.
Last night, fans at Tropicana Field in Tampa got a frightening reminder of the risks involved with baseball. Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ — one of two Northwestern products on major league rosters — was pitching to Tampa Bay’s Desmond Jennings in the bottom of the second inning. The score was tied 1-1, and there was one out in the inning.
With Rays runners at second and third, Happ ran the count on Jennings to 3-1. Jennings knew he would get something to hit, since Happ didn’t want to load the bases. Happ delivered the ball to the plate, Jennings got a pitch he could hit, and then …
Two sounds filled the air in Tampa. The first was the familiar crack of the bat, as Jennings made contact with the pitch. The second was the unfamiliar and sickening sound of the line drive catching Happ on the side of the head. The ball caromed off of Happ and travelled an unsettling distance into right field. The two runners on base scored, and Jennings went to third base with a triple.
As the play was unfolding, everyone in the stadium looked on as Happ lay motionless on the ground. The risks of the game — and perhaps the single greatest risk in all of professional sports — had come to pass. The video for this is available online, but linking to it here would seem disrespectful in some way. Find it somewhere else if you really want to see it, but be prepared to be horrified if you do.
The stadium fell silent, as it should have. Suddenly, the score of the game, who was coming up next, and all of the other ever-present vagaries at a baseball game didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was a young man who was in serious danger.
Batters wear helmets on their heads to protect themselves from the force of a thrown baseball, but a ball can jump off a player’s bat even faster than it comes in, and pitchers have no protection. That will hopefully change as the result of this incident, but it will be too little, too late to help J.A. Happ. He absorbed the full force of a line drive in the most vulnerable place imaginable.
J.A. Happ is currently listed in stable condition at Tampa’s Bayfront Medical Center. Thousands of people have tweeted their best wishes to him, while also commenting on the severity of his injuries. Like everyone else, I hope and pray that he’s going to be all right.
Everyone who loves baseball, or any other sport, should take a moment to pray for J.A. Happ. The games that we invest our time and money in — to watch other people play them professionally — are fraught with peril. The reminders of these risks are never a welcome sight, either. But something needs to be done, to prevent similar injuries from happening in the future. Something positive could then come from what looks like a horrible event.