Five months ago, Brian Young was standing in foul territory on the UC Irvine baseball field, analyzing the swing of his teammate, Freddie Combs.
It was Oct. 31, and Young, a junior first baseman, let his thoughts drift toward plans for the Halloween evening. As Combs readied his swing, Young glanced away for what seemed a split second . . .
The baseball, tipped sharply from Combs’ bat, slammed into Young’s face, shattering his left cheekbone, his nose, and the bones supporting his left eye.
When Young caught sight of the blood--on his jersey, on his pants, on the ground, everywhere it seemed--he tried to stay calm as Irvine Coach Mike Gerakos came to his aid.
“Everyone was pretty calm, they knew my nose was broken right away,” Young said. “Coach Gerakos grabbed me by the arm and asked if I was going to pass out. I remember saying I thought I was OK, and they helped me to the bench. But blood was everywhere . . . “
Said Gerakos: “I’ve seen players get hit before, but the way he got hit, it was like at a straight angle. The ball just ricocheted off his face. He was in a pool of blood. It was not a pretty sight.”
Young was rushed to Irvine’s on-campus medical facility, and from there taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange for X-rays and a CAT scan. Along with a fractured nose, fractured cheekbones and a broken bone around the orbit of his left eye, Young’s jaw also was askew, pushed over about an inch.
“When I closed my mouth to check my bite, my upper teeth came down below my lower teeth,” Young said.
Young had to wait five days to have surgery because of the swelling.
“My roommate called me the Elephant Man,” he said.
Last Tuesday morning, Young sat in an Irvine restaurant and recalled the accident that kept him out of baseball for nearly two months.
Sitting across the table from him, it was difficult to detect any sign of trauma to his face. Reconstructive surgery had brought his face back nearly to the way it looked before the accident.
Dr. Leonard Prutsok, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Orange, had performed the surgery that lasted nearly three hours.
Prutsok had to remove some of the cartilage from the septum of Young’s nose and use it to partially correct the nasal deformity. Prutsok said he also made incisions one millimeter below Young’s left eyelid, and secured the area with two inch-long stabilizing plates made of titanium. The plates will remain permanently.
Young, who now wears a batting helmet that has a face shield to protect the left side of his face, said many ask if he was at all frightened to return to the baseball field after his accident.
“After the operation, I thought about hanging up my cleats,” he said. “I mean I had to ask myself, was it really worth it? But as soon as the swelling went down, I realized I love the sport too much. I knew deep down I would play again.”
He added: “Because I didn’t really see it happen, I never have flashbacks or anything like that. If I had seen it coming, I’d probably be much more scared now.”
Apparently, the accident has done little--other than make him miss all of winter practice--to hurt Young’s play. He is hitting .269, and leads the team in home runs with four--including one Tuesday in a 20-9 nonconference victory over Cal Poly Pomona--and is second in runs batted in with 18.
Another team-leading statistic: Young has been hit by pitches six times this season.
“Yeah, it is funny, I am getting hit a whole lot more,” he said. “I think the pitchers see it (his face protector) and then see how close they can come. But it’s not just (opposing) pitchers, our own pitchers hit me too.
“The guys on our team call me The Magnet.”
Add baseball: Senior Stacy Parker had two stolen bases Tuesday to boost his season total to 17. Parker, who is 17 of 20 on the year, needs 10 more to break the single-season record of 26 set by Rocky Craig in 1971.
Sophomore Al Rodriguez went 4 for 5 with five RBIs Tuesday to boost his season average to a team-leading .359. Rodriguez also leads the team with 21 RBIs.
The men’s tennis team might have lost one of its top singles players, Mike Cadigan, to a shoulder injury.
Cadigan, a team captain for the last three years, injured his right rotator cuff last month during a match against South Carolina at the National Indoor Intercollegiate team championships at Louisville, Ky.
Although he tried to play through the injury, and didn’t tell anyone that he was hurt, it became obvious that something was wrong as he lost 24 consecutive matches in a two-week span.
“He was trying to Rambo it out,” Anteater Coach Greg Patton said. “But he couldn’t serve.”
Cadigan last played on March 6. As the rotator cuff apparently is strained--not torn--Patton says he’s optimistic Cadigan will be back in the lineup around mid-April, or, more importantly, for the NCAA tournament beginning May 19 at Athens, Georgia.
Senior Erik Kenyon cleared a personal best 17-feet 3/4-inch last Saturday in winning the pole vault in a multiteam meet at Tucson. Kenyon’s mark ranks him second on the Anteaters’ all-time list. Mike Sabatino set the school record of 17-1 1/2 in 1977. . . . Lori Bonstein, a 5-11 middle blocker from MiraCosta College, is one of four signees to the women’s volleyball team. Two years ago, Irvine Coach Mike Puritz recruited Bonstein during her senior year at Carlsbad High, but Bonstein chose to go to UC Santa Barbara. Bonstein left Santa Barbara after a year, sat out last season at MiraCosta, and will enter Irvine as a sophomore this fall. Other players to sign with Irvine are: Caron Pardee, a 5-10 left-handed middle blocker from Long Beach Wilson High; Debbie Quam, a 5-10 setter from Mater Dei, and Scotleen isley, a 5-8 outside hitter from Fremont.