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Gonzales Is Just Trying to Get Back on His Feet : Cal State Fullerton: Titan left fielder is out of the hospital but still in considerable pain after running into wall.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Getting back into the Cal State Fullerton lineup was not Rich Gonzales’ top priority Sunday. Getting out of bed was.

Gonzales, who suffered a sprained neck after smashing headfirst into the outfield fence during the Titans’ 14-4, College World Series loss to Oklahoma State Saturday, got about one hour of sleep Saturday night.

Every time he tried to roll over in bed, pain would shoot through his neck and shoulders and wake him up. He made up for the restless night by sleeping for most of Sunday, and he remained in bed for much of the evening, groggy because of the pain-killers he was taking.

Gonzales, a Diamond Bar High School graduate who played football at Oregon State for a season, won’t be in the lineup for Fullerton’s losers-bracket game against The Citadel today at 1:10 p.m. PDT.

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And if the Titans (36-22) defeat the Bulldogs (45-13), the left fielder, who bats third in the order and leads the team with a .386 average, may not be able to play Tuesday.

“It’s pretty disappointing coming to the College World Series and not being able to play,” Gonzales said. “I’m going to try to get up and go to the game (today). Hopefully we can win the next two games, and maybe I could be ready to play on Thursday.”

Although Gonzales’ injury will keep him out of the lineup for at least a day, it is not as serious as it first appeared.

Racing toward the fence in an attempt to catch Michael Daniel’s drive to left-center field in the second inning, Gonzales lunged for the ball at the warning track and appeared to make an over-the-shoulder catch. He lost his footing on the warning-track gravel and rammed his head into the aluminum fence.

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Television replays showed that Gonzales had possession of the ball after landing on the ground. But when he rolled from his stomach to his back and brought his gloved hand to his head, the ball dropped out.

Third base umpire Dick Runchey ruled no-catch, claiming that Gonzales failed to properly present the ball, and Daniel circled the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park home run.

“I saw the replay, and I thought it was a catch,” Gonzales said. “But I guess I had to show the ump that I had the ball. It was probably the best catch I’ve ever made. And the most painful one I’ve ever made.”

Gonzales was treated on the Rosenblatt Stadium field for about 15 minutes before paramedics placed him in an ambulance took him to a nearby hospital.

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“It was scary at the time, because when you have an impact at the top of the head and neck pain, you always suspect the worst and hope for the best,” Fullerton trainer Chris Mumaw said. “In this case, it could have been substantially worse. We feel very fortunate.”

Gonzales’ injury was classified as a cervical sprain. The crash into the wall compressed the vertebrae in his neck, causing trauma to the ligaments and muscles in the area.

“I was real scared on the way to the hospital,” Gonzales said. “But once they took the X-rays and a CAT-scan, I was more confident that the injury wasn’t as serious as I thought. I just have a pretty big bump and a cut on my forehead, and I’m pretty sore.”

Gonzales did quite a bit of damage to the outfield fence, too.

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“There are little dents along the wall where balls hit, and there’s a big, round dent where Rich hit it,” Titan third baseman Phil Nevin said. “But he was real lucky. If he was one more foot to the left, he would have hit a metal pole.”

Nevin said that most of the Titans were stunned by Gonzales’ injury and had trouble concentrating on the game until the public-address announcer informed the crowd a few innings later that Gonzales was in good condition.


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