Carlos Villanueva doesn’t want to think this way, but his mind starts to wander looking at the terrifying images of J.A. Happ: “What’s stopping it from happening to one of us?”
Villanueva spoke with a few of his friends on the Blue Jays, trying to get updates on Happ, who was released from a Florida hospital on Wednesday after leaving Tropicana Field on a stretcher the night before. The Cubs pitcher also planned to use his influence as an executive board member with the Major League Baseball Players Association.
There was no time to react to the ball Tampa Bay’s Desmond Jennings hammered right back to the pitcher’s mound. Happ, a former Northwestern University left-hander, crumpled to the ground but survived the line drive that smashed into the side of his head.
The next player might not be so lucky, and those fears should push the union and the commissioner’s office into more research-and-development projects, trying to discover something that might protect pitchers before it’s too late.
“Guys are really afraid of change. It’s the old-school way and it’s always been like that,” Villanueva said. “But if we have the technology to prevent a little bit of that, then why wouldn’t we? We are working on that and hopefully sooner than later we’ll get something to prevent those situations.”
Villanueva, who played with Happ last season in Toronto, said the Blue Jays tried on protective hats last year during a visit to New York, but the prototypes “were not even close.”
Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy made that point on his personal Twitter account. Last year McCarthy needed emergency brain surgery and nearly died after getting hit by a line drive with the A’s.
McCarthy tweeted: “Anybody taking the hard line stance today that pitchers should be wearing helmets need to get out their tool kits and make a good one.”
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Villanueva is a thoughtful, articulate, bilingual voice within the union. He had already put Wednesday’s tough-luck no-decision in perspective. After a 5-4 loss to the Cardinals, he insisted the players were not resistant to change, just waiting for the right product.
“I know there’s a lot of talk out there about the gear,” Villanueva said. “Hopefully, they’ll come out with something that won’t effect us pitching out there. But it’s still such a fast game. What happens if the ball comes directly at your face? There’s nothing (you can do about that). You can’t pitch with a mask on, so it just comes down to the luck of the draw. I know we stand behind our brothers.”