Returning to the mound: Former Seminole State player slowly coming back after being hit in face
Jordan Underwood remembers seeing the ball come off the bat.
What happened after that is unclear.
The former Seminole State (Okla.) College pitcher was struck in the head by a line drive off an aluminium bat last season in a game against Northeast Oklahoma College.
“I was facing their three-hole hitter, a big left-handed guy,” Underwood recalled. “I was trying to get a fastball in on his hands, but I left it over the plate too much. I remember seeing the bat hit the ball and vaguely remember putting my glove up.”
Underwood was knocked down and lay face-down in the dirt, but was coherent, Seminole coach Jeff Shafer said.
“My body was in shock,” said Underwood, who returned to the mound this season at Southeast Missouri State University. “I knew I was hit, but I was not in terrible pain. I didn’t really know what was going on.”
The incident stunned Shafer.
“In my 25 years of coaching, that was the worst injury I’ve seen,” he said.
Underwood, 21, of Edmond, Okla., was taken to a hospital in Joplin, Mo., He had a broken cheek bone, eye socket and the retina in his left eye was detached.
“I think I asked (the doctors) what was the worst-case scenario and they said that I would lose my eye,” Underwood said. “That shell-shocked me.”
After a failed attempt to reattach his retina, Underwood lost the vision in his left eye.
“I guess for the first two weeks I didn’t have the surgery,” Underwood said. “I had to wait for the swelling to clear. I had some hope, optimism everything would be back to normal.
“After they told me I would lose my vision, it took a week or two to set in. I had a close-knit group of players that helped me get through it.”
Underwood has often thought about that day.
“I’ve thought about that more over the summer, watching wood bats,” he said. “The ball doesn’t come off it quite as hard, but there is always a chance the same thing would happen.
“I’ve thrown against wood bats in fall in junior college. It makes a big difference. Pitchers love it, hitters hate it.”
Underwood didn’t think twice about pitching again.
“I really think it’s because I’ve grown up playing baseball my whole life,” he said. “I’d really regret not getting another shot. When I’m 30, 40 years old, I don’t want to think I wish I tried to pitch again.
“It was baby steps. The first three, four weeks were tough. I was relearning to play catch and had to adjust my depth perception.”
Because his right eye faces the batter, Underwood didn’t have to change his pitching delivery, but he’s developed a gratefulness for life.
“I definitely have a greater appreciation for everything in my life,” he said. “I could’ve gotten hit an inch higher and been killed.”
Shafer would love to see the NJCAA go to wood bats, not only for the safety issue, but for the good of the game.
“Kids are bigger and stronger today and that has a big impact on it,” Shafer said. “All levels should be played with wood bats. The scores would be down. You don’t see as many balls hit hard.”