Church reaches out to former teammate
Ex-Met empathizes with Wright after recent beaning
Two days after being hit in the head by a 94-mile-per-hour fastball, spending a night in the hospital and being diagnosed with a concussion, David Wright showed up in the New York Mets clubhouse wearing his trademark smile and claiming he felt fine, rearing to go.
Over in the Atlanta clubhouse, ex-teammate Ryan Church had a message for his old buddy: be careful; be very careful.
Church, traded by the Mets to the Braves last month, suffered two concussions last season and was limited to 90 games. He was on the disabled list twice, although the Mets delayed that assignment after his second concussion and even flew him from Atlanta, where the injury occurred, to Colorado and kept him on the active list a full three weeks after he was hurt. Having been down that road, Church reached out to Wright as soon as he learned about the beaning.
"We sent text messages back and forth," Church said. "I told him, `If you feel anything, don't ignore it. Don't rush back. Take your time.'"
That was not necessarily what Wright wanted to hear. The Mets, criticized for mishandling Church's injury, took a more conservative approach this time, assigning their third baseman to the disabled list 24 hours after he was hit by the pitch by San Francisco's Matt Cain. Wright complained that he was "embarrassed" by the DL assignment.
Church understood his friend's feeling.
"It's in our DNA," the outfielder said. "You want to be out there. You want to play. It was what I was feeling. But there are professionals who make studies of concussions. That's what they do. When I was trying to come back after the second one, they told me I was taking a risk going out there.
"You try and go out and focus and, if it's not there, it could be dangerous. They did the right thing with David. What he's having is not like what I was going through. I tried to deal with it as best I could. I should have said, `Put me on the DL. I'm done."'
Church's first concussion occurred in Spring Training when he collided with Marlon Anderson on a pop fly in short right field. He recovered in time to be the Mets hottest hitter in April 2008 with a 10-game hitting streak and a .319 batting average. But three weeks into May, Church was injured again when, while trying to break up a game-ending double play, his head hit the knee of Atlanta shortstop Yunel Escobar. Two days later, Church flew with the Mets to Colorado.
"At the time, I didn't take it seriously," Church said. "Looking back, I was really stupid."
It's easy for outsiders to miss the seriousness of concussions. There are no casts, no crutches, no slings, no wheelchairs. Church knows that can be a problem.
"You're the only one who really knows how you feel," he said. "You could look fine on the outside, but you don't know what's going on inside. You're risking a lot. You've got a long career. David is a franchise player. You can't just run him out there."
Recovery takes time.
"It wasn't until a month after the season that one day I stopped in my tracks and said to myself I hadn't felt anything for weeks," Church said. "That's when I felt I could start my offseason workouts."
In their text exchange, Wright told Church that he was symptom free except for a rather painful headache. "I was glad to hear that," Church said. "That's normal. That's a good sign. It makes you take a deep breath."
Church said that the concussions had not changed to approach to the game. He recently went barreling into Florida shortstop Hanley Ramirez and came out of it with a black eye. He understands, though, that his experiences last year have made him an unwilling expert on the care and treatment of concussions.
"I am the guinea pig," he said. "Someone's got to do it."
And his final word on the injury?
"I recommend not getting one," he said.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.