TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Denard Span’s mother settled into her box seat, surrounded by 20 family members and friends, to watch her son lead off for the Minnesota Twins.
Uh oh. Look out!
In a shocking split-second, Span hit a hard foul ball that struck his mom in the upper chest Wednesday. She was treated by paramedics and back in the stands minutes later.
“Tell everyone that I’m all right,” Wanda Wilson told The Associated Press hours later by telephone. “Everyone was so worried, he was so worried. But I’m all right.”
“We had just gotten there. It happened so fast, you couldn’t do anything,” she said. “I was kind of in awe. But God is good, I’m OK.”
Wilson was wearing a Span jersey and sitting a few rows off the field, near the Twins’ third-base dugout. In the first inning against the New York Yankees, Span took a late swing on the sixth pitch of the game and sent a line drive that hit his mother near the shoulder.
“As the ball was in the air, I realized that it was going after my mom,” Span said after arriving back at Twins’ headquarters in Fort Myers. “When I saw her go down, I just couldn’t do nothing but go after her.”
Tears of pain
Span ran into the packed stands and stayed with his mother while she got treatment. Shaken, she’d started to tear up.
“That’s what hurt me the most,” Span said, “when she started crying.”
The split-squad game was delayed for a few minutes as she walked to the first aid station. Span returned to the plate and struck out looking on the next pitch from Phil Hughes.
The Twins originally said Span would leave the game, but his mother was sitting in a different seat by the bottom of the first inning and he went to play center field.
“What the odds of that happening?” Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said. “I’ve never seen it before. It’s crazy. I’m standing there right next to it and I heard it and it’s just, ‘Oh no!, that didn’t sound good.’ She’s on the ground and I’m saying, ‘Please don’t be the head or something’ because it sounded so ugly.”
Span flied out in the second inning. After the top of the third, Span said Yankees star Derek Jeter stopped him on the field and told him that it was OK to leave the game to check on his mother. Span left in the bottom of the third, telling a team official he wasn’t mentally into the game.
“I told her I came out of the game and she got mad at me because everyone came to see me play,” said Span, a Tampa native. “She was more mad at me for coming out of the game than me hitting her.”
The Twins were more than happy to let him go and the mother and son spent time together for the rest of the afternoon.
“It tore him up pretty good,” Anderson said. “They said she was fine and he got a chance to be with her. I’m sure he’ll probably buy her a nice dinner tonight,” he said.
Span tied for the league lead in triples last year, helping the Twins win the AL Central.
“It’s just been a crazy day,” he said after the 4-2 win over New York.
Girardi: ‘Very scary’
Anderson said a few inches either way could’ve made for a much more serious injury.
“It hit her in the meat. I guess if it got up on the bone or the shoulder blade or something, the trainer said it could have shattered it. No place is good, but if it had to be somewhere, at least it didn’t get a bone,” he said.
Said Yankees manager Joe Girardi: “Very scary and it had to be very scary for him, watching him run over there. Thank God she is OK. She is a tough lady, she stayed. She didn’t go to the hospital, nothing. I suspect you are not going to see him come out for many things, either.”
Spring training ballparks are much smaller than stadiums where regular-season games are held. But along with being more cozy, spring parks can be more dangerous because fans often sit closer to the field.
The backstop netting at George M. Steinbrenner Field goes all the way from behind the plate to the roof, and extends toward the dugouts. Span’s mother was sitting only a few rows off the field, in the first section where the netting ends.
“It’s kind of a dangerous spot,” Hughes said. “I think they should move the net all the way to the dugout because you can get those foul balls like that.”
Fans are often reminded to be alert for balls and bats that might go flying into the stands. But with objects traveling so fast, such injuries become perils of the game.
Hall of Famer Bob Feller heard about the Span accident and recalled the time he threw a pitch that was fouled off and hit his mom — on Mother’s Day.
“She was sitting right next to the dugout at Comiskey Park in Chicago,” the 91-year-old Feller said at Cleveland’s camp in Goodyear, Ariz. “It hit her right above the eye, broke her glasses and she needed seven stitches. It was in 1939. Some Mother’s Day for her, wasn’t it? I was pretty upset, but had to keep on pitching.”