BOSTON -- He’d already done his lifting, completed his throwing and now was finishing up his running, with just one brisk trot remaining to the right-field foul pole in Marlins Park as the home team began its batting practice.
“I was on my last pole," Steven Wright said. “I was almost done. They just started to hit. I didn’t want to pay attention to their hitting."
And that’s when, at the last moment, he heard someone yell, 'Look out.'"
A line drive was screaming his way.
“I tried to run away," Wright said, “and ran right into it. If I had stopped and just stood there, it probably would have missed me by five feet. Instead I tried veering off to the fence, and it just smoked me."
The ball hit Wright in the back of the neck, right on the bone at the top of his spine.
“I kind of stumbled," Wright said. “I didn’t lose consciousness. I remember the whole thing, or at least I think I do. About 30 seconds afterward, I started seeing stars, started feeling fog. I went in to see a trainer."
Wednesday will mark six weeks since Steven Wright, the knuckleballer who had won a spot in the Boston Red Sox's starting rotation, was diagnosed with concussive symptoms after being struck by a line drive during the Miami Marlins' batting practice.
Wright, a rookie at age 31, had emerged as one of the better storylines in a dismal Sox season, taking a regular turn after his call-up from Pawtucket and running off four straight starts in which he allowed two runs or fewer. The Red Sox have had an organizational affinity for knuckleballers since Tim Wakefield, and Wright fit the profile of another late bloomer who was mastering the vagaries of his trick pitch.
With five victories to his credit (he had earlier call-ups as well), and two months left to be played, Wright was in position to make a case for why he should be considered for a starting spot next season.
Instead, it has been six weeks since Wright has appeared in a game, the club placing him first on the seven-day concussion disabled list, then transferring him to the 15-day DL as symptoms have persisted. Interim manager Torey Lovullo said that Wright has thrown several bullpens, but he has yet to pass the protocol required by MLB before being allowed back to active status. With the Sox having just 13 games remaining on their schedule, it appears unlikely Wright will be back this season.
But after being sent to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program, the same folks who treated other Sox players felled by concussions, including David Ross, Stephen Drew and Brock Holt, Wright takes the long view. As much as he would like to pitch again in 2015, it’s far more important that he be healthy headed into the offseason, much like Holt a year ago.
The ball struck Wright so hard, it actually bruised the C-6 and C-7 vertebrae in his neck, the contusion showing up on imaging. He was told it would take six weeks just for the bruise to fully heal.
“If you haven’t had a concussion," Wright said, “it’s hard to explain what it feels like to have one."
Wright did offer a vivid description of the effect the concussion had on his balance.
“When I had my eyes closed," he said, “it was like I was on a boat in the Bering Sea."
Dr. Micky Collins, the executive director of the concussion program, patiently explained to Wright all the symptoms he was feeling, his staff demonstrating through a series of exercises the extent to which he had been impacted.
Ross, who had multiple concussions with the Red Sox, had talked about how his personality changed, and he found himself reacting with anger toward his wife, kids, even strangers while he was driving. It was a relief, he said, to learn that his behavior was consistent with concussive symptoms, and he was able to address them over time.
“I was the opposite," Wright said. “I wasn’t even there. I was just really passive. Kind of there, but not really alert. I felt I was fine.
“That’s when my wife [Shannon] realized there was something wrong, especially when I was with my daughter [Ella]. Usually I love to play, and I was like acting she wasn’t even there."
At first, Wright said, he resisted being shut down. But he said the Sox trainers were adamant, for which he is now grateful, and ultimately he agreed to go to Pittsburgh, where he was educated on what was wrong and shown a variety of exercises designed to place him on the road back.
“I was going crazy, having to sit in the clubhouse and not be part of the team," he said. “You feel separated. Not only separated from yourself, because you feel different, but separated from the team, because you couldn’t even sit and have a conversation, you can’t even hang out, because it was so taxing to do anything.
“It’s like you’re excluding yourself from everything, because anything I would do just provoked the symptoms. I felt super foggy. I felt like everything was in slow motion. It sucked, man."
Most of the symptoms Wright has been dealing with, Lovullo said, have improved markedly. The balance issues have ceased, though Wright has been dealing of late with headaches.
Wright has been on the disabled list just twice in his career. Once came before the 2014 season, when he sustained a sports hernia while preparing for the season that cost him all of spring training and set him back a couple more months.
And now, this. But as much as he’d like to pitch, going into the offseason healthy and able to prepare for 2016 has become the priority.
“I just want to be healthy," he said. “Make sure I’m 100 percent and can get after it as soon as the offseason starts. I learned from Micky that the things that are happening to me, I’m not the only one they’re happening to, and they can be fixed."