The Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox were tied 2-2. It was the bottom of the 4th inning, bases loaded and no one out. Joe Kelly, the BoSox starter, stretched back and unleashed a fastball. Unfortunately for Kelly, the pitch got away from him and it sailed high and in. Unfortunately for Kevin Pillar, the Blue Jays lead-off hitter, the ball was heading straight for his head.
As you hear the stomach-turning thud of the ball hitting the helmet you catch your breath and freeze. You never want to see something like that. You never want to see someone hit like that. It’s the kind of thing you don’t even wish upon your enemies. A quick second later Pillar jumps up and jogs to first, but it takes you a few seconds to finally allow yourself to believe that he is alright. You start to calm down and realize you don’t even want to think about how bad that could have been. Your breathing is back to normal now and the game can continue. The very next pitch however, is crushed by Josh Donaldson for a grand slam and you go crazy and lose your mind. So much for being calm.
But back to Pillar, they say that your life flashes before your eyes, and in his case it must have come in on that 97 mile per hour baseball. Luckily for everyone, that missile just hit the brim of the cap and knocked it off without actually hitting Pillar. After seeing the replay in slow motion, we knew he wasn’t injured physically but the mental and emotional stress by such an event can be overwhelming. There is no right or wrong way to deal with it as everyone does so differently.
Pillar felt most comfortable in dealing with it by continuing on as though he didn’t just have one of the scariest moments of his life. If he decided to leave the game at that time, people would understand. No one is here to judge what is right or wrong. What we can take away from it though, and what we should be proud of, is how both of these players handled the situation. Boston and Toronto have a lot of sports reasons to hate each other whether it is with the Red Sox, the Bruins and even the Celtics. We are always in the same division no matter the sport and it is safe to say there is never any love lost between these cities.
Pillar put that all aside as he quickly realized that Kelly wasn’t trying to hurt him or trying to send any kind of ‘message’ to the Blue Jays. Kelly would not intentionally put his team down a run just to hit a batter; he simply lost control as he tried to throw the ball a little harder than he normally does. So as scary as the incident was, Pillar knew not to overreact and calmly jogged to first rather than charge the mound.
— Zesty Red Sox News (@zesty_redsox) February 8, 2016
Kelly himself understood how close he came to severely injuring Pillar and some things are more important than a game played by grown men. As Pillar stood on first, Kelly actually said, “I’m sorry.” In today’s sports world it may seem ‘unmanly’ to ever apologize, especially to a player on a hated team. In this case however, even though getting hit is part of the game, and even though it wasn’t the pitcher’s fault, that simple apology did speak volumes about the respect that these men have for each other and an example for others to follow.
If the story ended there, it would have been another neat little tale about respect that gets overlooked more often than it should. But it doesn’t stop there. The following week it was Toronto’s turn to play at Boston’s Fenway Park. As Pillar walked into the visiting clubhouse, in front of his locker there was a gift. In a touch of respect, Joe Kelly had bought Pillar a rather expensive bottle of alcohol.
It certainly wasn’t necessary, but it certainly was classy.
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