Player Perspectives: Matt Shoemaker
It’s now been almost five months since Sept. 4 when Kyle Seager’s 105-mph line drive fractured my skull and brought an abrupt end to my 2016 season. It was a scare, for sure, especially later that night when the bleeding required immediate brain surgery, but there wasn’t a moment when I felt my career was threatened or that I wouldn’t be ready to pitch again this season.
Now, with only a few weeks until spring training, I can’t wait to get back on the mound again. If anything, I feel like I’m ahead of schedule getting ready this year because I had that extra month off. I’ve gone about my preparation the same as I would during any other offseason. I’m doing my workouts – lifting, running, throwing, arm program, you name it.
Psychologically, I feel very good, too. I don’t think about getting hit or the surgery. I don’t have any nightmares or flashbacks. I’m not worried about it.
At this point I don’t have any trepidation at all about going back on the mound. Now, could that change a little bit when I first step on the mound to face a live hitter? Sure, I guess, but honestly I don’t think that’s going to be the case.
It seems like it happened a long time ago at this point. When I got hit, I was down on all fours. I was dizzy and light-headed, but I knew what had happened and I was trying to gather myself, too. I was actually thinking, “Give me a second, I can get up and still pitch.” Our trainers all laughed about that later.
The other thought I had was that I should have caught the ball. Intellectually, I realize it’s impossible to have that kind of reaction time on a ball hit that hard (105 mph), but even now I look at the replay and say, “Yeah, I almost caught it.”
Obviously, I had no idea about the severity of the injury at that point. My skull was fractured. There was blood coming out of the cut and once the training staff got to me and began asking questions, it began to set in. I was able to get up and walk off the field, but I needed a trainer on each arm to do it.
The doctors and the trainers were all surprised in a good way that I never lost consciousness or blacked out.
I’ve told people that I know God’s hand was on me that night. From the moment it happened, there was a calmness that came over me. I was in Seattle which has a great hospital (Harborview Medical Center) with a great trauma unit. I’m sure there are great hospitals in Anaheim that would have provided excellent care, too, but Harborview has a Level 1 trauma center that serves five states. If something like this was going to happen, I’m thankful I was there.
After the first couple of CT scans the doctors liked what they were seeing. The scans showed there had been a bleed, but it didn’t appear to be growing. At that point the thinking among the doctors seemed to be, “We’re just going to monitor it and then you can go home tomorrow.” That was awesome news.
But then came the third CT scan. The doctors came back and immediately said, “Hey, there’s more blood, so we’re going into surgery right now.” It happened that quickly and it was a lot to process.
On top of that, Danielle, my wife, was just short of eight months’ pregnant and on full bed rest at the time. She wasn’t allowed to get off the couch or out of bed unless she needed to go to the bathroom or something, so obviously it was extremely difficult for her.
I can’t imagine what must have been going through her mind. At first, I was telling her everything was fine based on the first two CT scans, then a couple hours later I was calling to tell her, “Hey, I’m going into surgery.” So she was a little shaken up. She wasn’t openly worried to me, but you could tell.
When I told her I was going in for brain surgery, I think that’s when it really hit her. All while she’s on bed rest. Ordinarily, someone in her situation may drop everything and fly out to Seattle, but we didn’t want to risk any additional movement. She could have gone into labor. Considering all she was going through, she handled it great.
The first week or so after the surgery was pretty miserable, but expected. I had a lot of sensitivity to light and sound, there was dizziness, throbbing headaches, but that was all considered normal following that procedure. After about a week or so the symptoms began to go away. The only thing that remained was occasional headaches, which I’d been told was pretty normal considering the head trauma and the surgery. I had headaches for about four weeks, but then they went away, too.
Seager, who hit the ball, has been in touch quite a bit. He was pretty shook up about it. I felt for him. As players, we dread having stuff like this happen to anyone. He’s been reaching out since September, starting with the first night in the hospital and every day or every other day for the first weeks after it happened. He’s a super nice guy, very caring.
Now, I feel pretty normal. Like I said, I have no nightmares or flashbacks or anything like that. The only time I think about it is when I’m asked about it or when I’m in the bathroom doing my hair and I see the scar in the mirror. The first week or two I was messing with Danielle a little, saying stuff like, “Oh, man, the scar, I’m going to look a little funky, a little different. This scar is big, my hair isn’t going to look like it usually does.”
But sure enough, after a week or two, all the concern over that went away, too. It’s just a scar. One, everyone says scars are kind of cool and two, now the scar is part of a story – something to talk about. It doesn’t affect me at all. It doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve accepted it.
Now I’m back where I was before the surgery. I feel good and I believe I can pick up just where I left off last August. I need to keep working hard and improve. Just like every other baseball season.
Matt Shoemaker, who was second in AL Rookie-of-the-Year voting after going 16-4 in 2014, had a 3.88 ERA and reached career highs in starts (27), innings pitched (160) and strikeouts (140) in 2016 before sustaining the season-ending injury. The 30-year-old right-hander from Michigan projects as a frontline starter for the Angels again in 2017.