BOSTON – Chris Colabello is well aware of the latest scientific research on concussions and the worrisome consequences that can result if head injuries aren’t treated with the appropriate care.
The Toronto Blue Jays first baseman takes the risks very seriously, which is why after he was hit on the side of the helmet in the fourth inning of Sunday’s 5-3 win over the Boston Red Sox, he checked himself for all the potential symptoms before trainer Mike Frostad even reached him on the field.
Not a single one was there – no headache, no nausea, he felt normal, he could see properly – which is why he felt ready when Frostad went through Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol with him, and knew he was OK to remain in the game.
"I gave all the answers to all the questions before they asked them," he said in the clubhouse after. "As soon as they got out there, I said, ‘I’m good.’ And they’re like, ‘You should stay down,’ and I was like, ‘I know, I’m just taking my shin guard off.’ Then I said, ‘I’m at Fenway Park, we’re in Boston, it’s Sunday, it’s the day before Marathon Monday, it’s my hometown, it’s the (fourth) inning.’ I was really aware of what was going on. There was never a sign to me that anything was wrong. I said, ‘I’ll be honest with you, I promise. I wouldn’t mess with something like this.’"
That didn’t make the incident any less scary.
Colabello has taken glancing blows off the helmet before, but never had he been hit flush the way he was this time. Knuckleballer Stephen Wright’s 86 mph fastball got away and clipped him where the bill meets the ear flap. That absorbed most of the force, keeping the full brunt of the impact from the head.
"My helmet is a little bit bigger than my head, actually, and it hit right in the corner," said Colabello. "It cracked a little bit, but it just knocked my helmet right off because it’s a little wide for my head. I didn’t really feel too much of it, my ears were ringing a bit when it hit me but I felt fine right away. I was coherent."
Colabello, who’s been facing Wright since they first met in the minor-leagues in 2012, was actually thinking that he might get a fastball.
"About halfway to home plate, I think I said, ‘Oh oh,’ in my head," he recalled. "I have a pretty good idea of his repertoire, I know he likes to use his fastball. When you get to two strikes you have to kind of hang in a little more. He had just thrown (a fastball) the pitch before that. I saw him kind of hesitate so I thought there was a chance he might throw another one because he typically likes to work pretty quick. But certainly it was just trying to make sure I stayed on it."
Wright was standing on the edge of the dirt cutout by the plate as Colabello was tended to, a look of concern on his face. He spoke to him twice on the field before the inning ended.
"I just told him I was trying to go in," said Wright. "I would never do that to anybody, especially when you start getting up around the head, that’s real scary. I have a relationship with Colabello, I’ve known him for a while. It didn’t matter who it was, I would never, ever try and do that to anybody. I just told him sorry that it happened. Obviously it was an accident but it still gets scary and it definitely shook me up a little bit. Any time the ball gets around the head, it’s dangerous. He understood I wasn’t trying to do that. I felt like it was something I needed to say to get it off my chest."
Colabello appreciated the gesture, but insisted it wasn’t needed.
"I’ve known Steven since 2012, we’ve played against each other a ton, he’s always been a really nice kid, really polite kid. I saw his reaction on video," he said. "He said something to me going down the line, and then even when I came around when the inning ended, he came up to me and was so apologetic. I knew there was no intent, obviously. Things happen in baseball."
The beanball came in the at-bat after Colabello collected his first RBI of the season, on a single in the first. "I was going to throw a party for myself but then I decided not to," he quipped.
Later, he was counting his blessings that nothing more severe took place, with his mom and his aunt in the stands.
"My mom probably cried for at least five minutes, if I had to guess," said Colabello, who when he met with media hadn’t had a chance to speak with her yet. "I’m sure she’s wondering if my head is in an ice bath or something."
Very fortunately for him, one wasn’t needed.