This was not a high-stakes softball game, but a singles barbecue, picnic and softball game at a Jewish Community Center. It was billed as a fun day outdoors in late spring at an expansive, park-like JCC site.
My fourth at-bat ruined the event when I cranked the ball right smack into the pitcher's face.
The vision and thud are still indelibly recorded in my head.
Dropping the bat, I ran to the pitcher's mound, where the girl I'll call "Michelle" crumbled onto the dirt as blood gushed.
Other players converged, too. One of her teammates, "Linda," rushed in from right field, and held her head and hand as someone called 911. I told someone to run to get the event's coordinator and anyone with some medical training.
No immediate help came, but within minutes, 50 or so people who were chomping down on hot dogs and burgers at the grill pavilion flooded the field, gawking and offering useless advice, and even less comfort.
As Michelle bled, nearly veering into shock, Linda held her. I felt relatively powerless and tried to shoo people away as we tried to stanch the bleeding with paper towels. Someone ran from the pavilion about 150 yards away with cups of ice.
One guy came all the way over to poke his head into the huddle around Michelle. "Are you a doctor or medical professional?" I asked.
"No," he said.
"Are you her friend?"
"Then get the hell out of here," I said, pulling him gently by the arm. I was losing my already frayed patience. This was not a show. Plus, when this guy saw the blood, he got wobbly, almost fainting. Michelle's only friend there was a guy who didn't play in the game, but thought it would be funny to make jokes at her expense.
I told everyone else to leave. The rubberneckers eventually left.
Nausea hit me, too — not from the blood, but because of the damage I caused to a totally innocent woman in a meaningless game. It was clear that Michelle was seriously hurt.
No Reason to Go
The last time I had seen that much blood on an athletic field, it was my own after I got kicked in the face in a state-cup soccer game months before college.
Since my soccer days, I've maintained a moderate level of athleticism. I don't like softball, yet play in a couple of social or work-related games a year.
On that day, there nothing to play for, and my team was so bad that one guy had the bat knocked out of his hand by a slow, underhand pitch. Others guys could barely walk, much less run.
There was no reason for me to play. In fact, there was really no reason for me to be at the event in the first place. Few people were close to their mid-30s; most were older, and most others were not too engaging.
I should have followed my initial instincts and left five minutes after arriving.
For a Jewish singles event, however, it was surprising that there were no doctors in attendance. My mom later provided some insight: "Jewish male doctors don't need to go to singles events. They could be crass slobs and they'll still find a wife."
The ambulance arrived about 20 minutes after the impact, and Michelle went to a nearby hospital. A couple people on her team who didn't even know her tried to comfort her with clichés about friendship and support.
Linda joined Michelle in the ambulance. The JCC coordinator, "Ruth," a nice woman in her 70s, told me that in her 25 years of running singles events, this was the first time anyone has had to go to a hospital.
She tried to reassure me, saying, "It's an accident on an athletic field."
In the emergency room, despite the pain, Michelle remained in fairly good spirits. I sat with her and Linda for the next six hours, listened to the doctors and nurses, and later met her parents, who drove there from their home about an hour away.
Michelle joked that of all the elective surgery she contemplated, her nose was not on the agenda. She also asked to have me help her use a bedpan, which got her laughing when I nearly turned pale.
A couple of people from her team came to the hospital with good intentions, but kept talking about friendship, community and support like they were reading from an Oprah transcript. Everyone had just met that afternoon, and Michelle started to lose patience with the cliché patrol. This accident must have been the one of the most exciting things to happen to the hangers-on in a while. They eventually left after an hour or two.
Much later, X-rays confirmed the obvious: a serious fracture to the nose, as well as a slight crack in her upper cheek near the ocular bone. There was also a deep gash, which the doctor stitched up. Luckily, there was no nerve or vision damage. There was not much else the doctors could do late on a Sunday night.
Since that day, we've spoken a few times on the phone. She has been repaired, and said she looks good. She was in good spirits and harbored no resentment, even joking that her friends said that at the very least, I owe her a marriage proposal. Because of business and an international vacation, I was unable to see her in the subsequent weeks.
We're going to meet up again soon in a safe, secure location — far away from the baseball diamond and a singles event.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.