12-year-old Brendan O'Neill will be OK, but he is mending slowly. His story brings back a familiar theme which seems to come up during every baseball season. There's a youth league, there's metal bats, a kid gets hit in the head, and then there's the discussion: Should metal bats be in the game?
However, they're not discussing it in Petaluma this year.
It is never easy to have a child in the intensive care unit of a hospital but as Dennis O'Neill and his family now know all too well, they are grateful when good news comes even in small increments. "We're going day-to-day right now," he told ABC7 News. Until last week, his 12-year-old son Brendan was just another boy of spring pitching in the Petaluma National Little League. A line drive to the face off a metal baseball bat changed all of that.
"He threw a pitch and the kid hit a line drive right back at him and he did not have time to react. It hit him square between the eyes," his father recalled. On Wednesday, Brendan underwent six hours of surgery to repair damage to his face, his nose, and his sinus cavities. "Comebackers" have always been a part of baseball at all levels, but aluminum bats have a larger sweet spot, increasing the odds of a hot shot doing damage.
Two years ago, Marin Catholic High School pitcher Gunnar Sandberg nearly died from such a hit in a practice game. As a result, his team and then his league adopted traditional wooden bats for the rest of that season.
It becomes a discussion every baseball season. Leagues and officials talk about increasing the distance between the mound and the plate, or making pitchers wear faceguards or helmets. As it is, today's metal bats hit balls with less velocity than previous models, but still more than wood, according to Petaluma Little League President Anthony Lackey. "Personally, if I had to choose between a helmet and maybe using wooden bats, I would choose wooden bats, for sure," he said.
"I'm not on a crusade and I was never on a crusade," said Brendan's father. All concerned described the accident as a one in a million shot. It's just baseball, says Dennis O'Neill. Maybe his matter of fact attitude and perspective comes from his job He is a lieutenant in the San Francisco Fire Department. "No matter if we change the bats from metal to wooden or we make the field bigger or make the children wear safety equipment, someone's still going to get hurt, and then who're we going to blame? There is no one to blame. It's a sports injury and they're going to happen no matter what," he says.
As for Gunnar Sandberg, his father says he still has some physical but he graduated from high school, is in college, and guess what he does for fun. He coaches the Marin Catholic freshman baseball team.