Marshalltown Community College head baseball coach Kevin Benzing said it was the worst athletic injury he had ever seen in his experience as player and coach.
He struggled emotionally describing the sound and the sight of it.
Last Saturday, in the first game of a doubleheader with Des Moines Area Community College in Boone, Tiger pitcher Brad Brown was batting in his part-time role as designated hitter.
Two out, bases loaded, count of 3 and 2, Brown was protecting the plate to get the bat on anything hittable.
A fastball up and in caught the right-hand batting Brown flush in the face before he could turn to get out of the way. Everyone who saw it knew it was bad when he dropped to the ground on his forearms, blood dripping from his nose.
EMT’s on the scene immediately responded. Brown told them that he felt a tingling in parts of his body and he managed to gain a sitting position by himself before the feeling left his legs and arms.
Rushed to the Boone Hospital, Brown was hastily transported to Des Moines Methodist Hospital for injuries that included a broken nose, crushed cheekbone and, far more seriously, a bruised spinal cord and swelling on the brain.
It’s not that Brown wasn’t familiar with surgery. He has had two shoulder surgeries from which he is only now back to throwing his fastball 86-87 mph, a positive sign that had moved Benzing to put him in the pitching rotation for the Tigers’ conference season.
He was scheduled to pitch the second game of the doubleheader but the Tigers needed his bat in the lineup and Brown was DHing in the opener.
Brown will need some more surgery – surgery to reconstruct his face, repair his broken nose.
None of that can be done until the swelling on his brain goes down and the bruising of his spinal cord is healed.
In the meantime, he is in Younkers Rehabilitation Center, “going to class,” Brown says, four times a day so that he can re-learn how to walk, write and regain some of the Motor skills that his injury has temporarily taken away. This class, though, is one where the test was given first. “I flunked it,” Brown says.
Brown’s speech is good enough – he has speech rehab from 10-10:30 every morning – that he could talk for a few minutes about his injury.
“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s not going as well [as I hoped].”
He is naturally impatient with his progress as any athlete who, a week before, had been running, batting, throwing and competing.
And competing is something he will have to do for a while. Competing with a tougher opponent than a smoke-throwing pitcher or a hitter than can get his bat on your best pitch. An opponent who has temporarily taken away the ability to perform everyday activities – walking, talking, writing, even turning over in bed by yourself.
But, he is making daily strides – short ones, perhaps – and his spirits are good. So good that he claims he will back playing ball in a couple of weeks. He did admit, however, that that might be getting back on the horse a little soon.
In addition to his half-hour of speech therapy, Brown has Physical Therapy from 10:30 to 11:30, a break for lunch, another one-hour physical therapy session at 1 and Occupational Therapy from 2-3.
His dad Bill is there, too. He goes to therapy along with Brad so he will know what to do when his son is released from the hospital. And, just in case – and nobody believes this, least of all father and son – Bill has to learn how to deal with some sort of lifelong restriction.
Brad got to go outside for therapy the day this reporter talked to him and he liked that, he was excited about it. His dad says that Brad will get to leave the hospital soon on a Saturday or Sunday for three or four hours before he has to return so that his progress can be monitored.
Brad has a lot of support. His teammates, coaches and friends are there to buoy his spirits. The President of DMACC and the DMACC baseball coach have been there, too.
Maybe if he knows that everyone – not just baseball fans – in his adopted community of Marshalltown are pulling for him, he will be able to get back on his horsehide horse soon. Maybe not as soon as two weeks but whenever it is, it will probably be sooner than anyone thought last Saturday as the gurney with Brad was hustled to the hospital.
By Rick Deines
135 West Main Street
Marshalltown, Iowa, 50158
Phone number: 641-753-6611
Fax number: 641-753-7221