In my mind's eye, I can still see the ball coming at me, see it coming right into my eye. Some people still think I got my glove up in time, and that it tipped the top of the webbing, but it didn't. Milliseconds would've made all the difference. A quarter of an inch would've made all the difference.
But that ball hit by Ryan Thompson of the Yankees, on Sept. 8, 2000, slammed directly into my right eye on the mound at Fenway Park. I lost consciousness only for a moment, and as I lay there on the dirt, hands over my face, the blood starting to come, it hurt like hell, and my first thought was whether I had some kind of brain injury. Then I wondered about my eye. "Is my eye still there?" I asked the trainer.
I was fortunate to be in Boston, where doctors at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary repaired the fractures in my right orbital bone, cheek and nose as best they could. But my eye was damaged and my eyesight diminished, and I've pitched in just seven big-league games since then.
It was a crossroad in my life, and I've wondered whether steroids were a factor. This thought crept into my mind, as I was replaying it over in my head in the months after I got hurt. I've wondered whether the batter hit that ball harder than he was born to hit it, and whether that might've made a difference in milliseconds. I'll wonder that the rest of my life.
I don't want to accuse Ryan Thompson, or get into a he-said, he-said thing about whether he took steroids. I can't sit here and say for sure that he took them, because I don't know. There was no testing for it, it wasn't against the rules and it could've been any number of guys who hit that ball. And I'm sure that if he had a choice, he would've preferred to hit the ball in the air, into the stands in center field.
But I also am not going to apologize for what I think. Considering what I've been through, I'm entitled to believe what I believe. That one pitch changed the course of my life.
The reason why I'm talking about it is not to make a judgment on steroids, but maybe if I talk about my situation, maybe they'll consider the possibility that if hitters are using steroids and are bigger and stronger, pitchers are more at risk. Maybe if that advantage is taken away, someone won't have to go through what I've gone through.
In a sense, I was lucky, because who knows, a couple of inches in another direction and I might've been killed. It could happen sooner or later, and they've got to give pitchers a chance. When I saw Matt Clement get hit with a line drive [last season], it was a total replay for me. My first thought was, "Oh, wow, I hope he's OK."
The trainers haven't kept statistics the last six years, but some will tell you privately that they believe the number of pitchers injured by batted balls climbed at the same time that they believe more players took steroids. In 1999, the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers' Society reported that 1,318 pitchers were hit by batted balls in the majors and the minors. In the majors alone, there were 315 incidents in which a pitcher was hit, and in 44 instances, the pitcher had to leave the game.
The connection between the cause and effect is simple: As the bodies become bigger and stronger, hitters hit the ball harder and faster, giving pitchers like myself less time to react. That might be the difference between me getting my glove up and catching it or knocking it down, and getting hit in the face.
I'm not a steroid moralist. I wouldn't say guys should've done it or shouldn't have done it. I've never done them, but believe me, I've thought about it a lot of times. I bet that if you asked 100 players, 100 would tell you they thought about it. I've put more junk in my mouth -- creatine, Ripped Fuel, diet fuels, all kinds of stuff. That's the way it is: Guys are always looking for an edge. I don't know for sure whether steroids would've made me better or worse, but if I had gotten a couple of miles per hour on my fastball, then hell, yeah, it would've helped.
I didn't worry about who was doing steroids either, because as a pitcher, you can't get caught up in that. You can't be standing there thinking, "Oh, this guy is huge, look at him." The thing that did kill me was when you'd give up a fly ball, and guys were so strong that they were muscling the ball where you can't imagine they would've hit the ball a year before -- left-handed hitters driving the ball over the left-center field fence easily.
If I knew for sure that what happened to me happened because Ryan Thompson was bigger and stronger than he was supposed to be, then, yeah, it would piss me off. But I don't know. I've just wondered.
I'd been hit many times before. Darin Erstad hit a line drive once that almost hit my nose, but I got my glove up in time. Another time, I caught a line drive right next to my ear. I have no problems with balls coming up the middle; that's just part of the game. The first thing they tell a hitter to do when they face a sinker-slider guy like me is to not try to do too much, and just try to hit the ball up the middle.
What happened to me might've happened anyway; it could've happened when I was pitching to a skinny leadoff guy. Injuries are part of the game, and always will be. Lots of other pitchers have gotten hit, from Mike Mussina to Andy Pettitte to Billy Wagner, and fortunately for those guys, they got rid of the aftereffects. I can't get rid of the bad -- I can't fake it. Because every day that I wake up, I can't see good out of this eye. Every day, I realize that something did happen.
I'm to the point now where I'm fine with everything that went on, and that hasn't always been the case. I had a rough time, for a while, and been through some mental fights myself. When I came back and pitched for the first time, I pitched to avoid the part of the plate where the hitter might extend his arms and hit the ball up the middle, back at me. I was throwing the ball either way inside or way outside, and it took me a long time to get over it, but I did it. I had Tommy John surgery last year, and I'm working my way back in extended spring training with the Florida Marlins.
I can't sit here and be mad about things, because I've been in pro ball 17 years and been able to do things you dream about as a kid, and I'm still plugging along, trying to get back to the majors.
But I'll wonder whether steroids played a role in my life. I'll never know for sure, but I'll wonder.
Maybe if I talk about my situation, maybe they'll consider the possibility that if hitters are using steroids and are bigger and stronger, pitchers are more at risk.