Deep breath, I told myself. You have a job to do. I’d played thousands of baseball games in my life, but never one like this. Never one in the major leagues.
I’d worked harder than anyone could imagine, spent years battling to beat the odds that I’d get this far, and now I was about to achieve my boyhood dream. I was a five-feet-nine, 180-pound guy in a six-feet-two, 210-pound world. But on this July 2005 night, I’d made it.
I glanced down at my blue jersey with the Chicago Cubs “C” in red on the front. Soak it all in, I thought, as I emerged from the visitors’ dugout in Marlins Stadium, where my Cubs were playing Florida. This is just the beginning.
Somewhere in the stands, my parents were watching. I pushed the thought of them aside, and studied the pitcher. A big left-hander named Valerio de los Santos. I had never seen him before.
I bat lefty, and I figured like most left-handed pitchers, he’d start me with a fastball, probably on the outer half of the plate. My last thought as I dug in in the batter’s box was Be aggressive.
And then de los Santos wound and fired, the very first big-league pitch I ever saw. A 92-mile-an-hour missile, a fastball, a high heater...or was it? Standing 60 feet, 6 inches away, I had less than a second to decide what the pitch would do. It was barreling straight at my head.
Is it going to hook over the plate at the last instant? I wondered. Or is this a wild pitch?
The pitch bored in on me. It’s not hooking, I realized. I tried to spin out of the way. Too late. The ball smashed into my head with a sickening sound. I crumpled to the ground.
I thought my head had exploded. I cupped it with both hands, afraid it would break into pieces if I let go. My eyes rolled back. Stay alive! Stay alive!