Holden On For Dear Life

Photo credit: Gordon Forsyth

The cliché is that anything can change in the blink of an eye.  There may be no truer example of that than Joe Holden, who is still recovering from injuries suffered from fouling a ball into his nose and eye during Somerset’s recent series in Newark.

Holden suffered a fractured orbital bone, broken nose and bleeding near his brain.  With his eye area still slightly discolored and swollen, the former Mets farmhand hasn’t been able to do anything as of late, unable to drive and certainly unable to do anything baseball related.  He’ll miss anywhere from the next three to six weeks, but he’s very fortunate it wasn’t much more than that.

Courier News beat writer Ryan Dunleavy and I were lucky enough to spend about 15 minutes with the first-year Patriot during last night’s Bears-Patriots game, and he was kind enough to take us through the moment that changed his season and very nearly changed his life.

So how are you feeling?

“It sucks being hurt and everything, but the last couple days have been much better.  I’m just happy to be here, you know, back at the ballpark.”

Neither of us were at the ballpark…could you tell us a little bit about what happened?

“I think it was a 1-2 count.  I knew a slider was coming in or a curveball, and I was just trying to battle.  I swung a littke too early, got out in front.  I went to swing, and I fouled it off the bat and right into my face.  I just went down immediately.  Before I knew it, Ryan (McMahon) and everyone else was out there and they picked me up.  I’d went straight down to the ground.  The first thing I did was close my right eye and open my left and see if I could see.  I couldn’t see, it was all black.  I saw nothing.  My right eye was fine.  I closed my right eye with my right hand and tried to open my left eye and saw nothing but black, and that’s when I really started to worry, because I was scared I wouldn’t be able to see.  When I opened my right eye, there was blood in the dirt and I knew something wasn’t right.  My nose was bleeding a little bit, but most of it was from the cut above my eye.  I have nine stitches there.  But Ryan came out and I was talking to Ryan and I was saying, “I can’t see, I can’t see.’  And he calmed me down, he said, ‘Everything’s going to be all right.’  Five minutes later, I was in the back of a cop car riding to the hospital.  Hopefully that’s the last time in the back of a cop car.”

When did your vision start to come back?

“Not until about 20 minutes later, not until I got to the hospital.  I was sitting in the ER and they took the patch off and I opened up my eye.  Things were still a little black, but I was still able to see.  It was still swollen shut, but I opened up my eye a little bit.  I was able to make out a few things, so I was able to calm down a little bit.  But the whole time, it was definitely scary.”

What was that 20 minutes like where you couldn’t see out of your left eye?

“It was scary.  I really can’t explain it.  I was just trying to keep my emotions together.  The pain, it hurt, but I wasn’t really worried about the pain.  I was more worried about my vision.  Ryan was there and he was just calming me down and telling me to take deep breaths.  Ryan really, really helped me a lot with calming me down.”

Did you talk to anybody in that time?  Did you call your parents, anything like that?

“I didn’t.  I never got to talk to my parents, Ryan called my parents probably about an hour after and gave them an update.  They drove right over.  I got a CAT scan, and after that, everything settled down and I called my parents and let them know the situation and that I was going to be all right.  They were upset.”

So you had a CAT scan…what else went on at the hospital?

“They ran all these tests, eye tests.  They opened up my eye when my eye was swollen shut, they had to open it up themselves and wanted to see if I could move it around, which I did.  They stuck one of those number things in front of my face and asked if I could read it.  It was blurry, so I really couldn’t read it then.”

Did you parents know anything had happened before Ryan called?  Were they listening to the radio broadcast or had they heard from someone else?

“No.  I know my dad, he normally listens to the game, but I guess this time he was out and about and wasn’t able to listen to it.  That’s the first thing I told Ryan, I was like, ‘Call my parents, because I know my dad is listening.  He probably heard it, but just let him know I’ll be all right.’  But we couldn’t even get in touch with him at first.  Then I knew something was up and he had no idea.” 

So what was the diagnosis?

“I had a broken nose and a broken lower orbital bone.  The fracture in my nose is very slight.  I don’t even really think it’s displaced or anything, it looks pretty straight to me.  So no surgery for that.”

Have you had any thoughts about being fortunate this isn’t worse, given the nature of what happened…

“Yeah, I guess.  I mean the orbital bone is fractured, but they said they’ve seen a lot worse and it could have been a lot worse.  So it’s fortunate.  It’s unfortunate that there’s a break to begin with, that’s going to take time to heal.”

Do you remember the whole thing?

“I remember everything.  Everything from the pitch coming in, to swinging, to seeing contact, to actually feeling the ball hit my face.  Going down, everything after that.  I wish I kind of didn’t remember it, but I do.  That’s another good thing, I wasn’t knocked unconscious.”

You’ve got a few years under your belt now…have you seen anything like that before?

“Never have I ever seen anything like that before.  I’ve seen guys square around for a bunt and it comes back and unfortunately it hits them, but I’ve never seen anyone take a swing and get a ball in the face, I’ve never seen that.”

What have you been doing since you left the team?

“My vision is still a little blurry.  But the eye itself is intact, there’s no damage or anything like that.  They said the vision should get better.  I’ve just been resting and icing.  I’m not driving, I’ve just been laying down in my bed watching TV for the past week or so.  I’ve been doing absolutely nothing, pretty much.”

So what is the plan from here?  How long until you’re able to start getting back on the field again?

“I think they said around three to six weeks before I can actually play in a game and be game ready.  Once my vision gets cleared up, I’ll be able to take BP and do some more team oriented stuff.”

Is the blurred vision the only after affect you’re feeling?  Do you have any headaches or anything like that?

“I’m battling headaches every now and then, but I guess that comes with it.  I still kind of feel a little out of it, and a little drowsy and tired.  But other than that, I’m just happy to be here and to see the guys.  It got me up a little bit.  It’s good to be around them and see them again.”

When you do get back out there and you start seeing some balls that are high and tight…is that going to bother you at all?  Are you worried about that?

“Actually, I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  I’m going to go out there and I’m going to try to forget everything.  Nothing happened.  Once you’ve got that in your mind, it’s going to stick with you.  I’m just going to go out there and just forget it.  I’ll get in the box for that first at-bat, swing at the first pitch and just get it over with.”

Do you almost sort of want something inside just to kind of get that trepidation out of the way?

“Well yeah.  I don’t mind inside pitches.  But if something’s high and tight at my face, I might get a little scared.  But if something’s high and tight, I’ll be able to see it, recognize it and get out of the way.”

Did you hear from any of the guys that night?

“Yeah.  They were very supportive.  I probably got text messages from seven guys just making sure I’m OK.  A couple guys called me.  Brian Henderson and Elliott Ayala, they came to the hospital.  It was good to see them.  They didn’t have to do that, they went out of their way and I appreciate that.  It made me feel a little bit better.  Them coming and making sure I was all right, it calmed me down.”

Are you still in pain at all, outside of the headaches?

“I’ve still a got a little pain in the eye itself and around it.  There’s still some throbbing, I still feel the throb.  Every now and then, I’ll move my eyes too quick, up and down or left and right, and it still hurts.  That’s really the only thing that’s still bothering me, the eyeball itself.  There’s really no nerve damage or anything like that, but it’s a little swollen.”

How much have you been thinking about baseball since the incident?

“Always.  It’s the only thing on my mind.  I love to play baseball, I’ve been doing it my whole life and it’s the only thing I’ve wanted to do for my whole life.  Getting injured and hearing I’m going to have to be out three to six weeks, it sucks.  I just like going out there and having fun.  This is unfortunate, but I’m going to have to deal with it.”

Obviously you haven’t had to deal with anything like this before, but have you ever had to miss any significant time with injuries before?

“Yeah, when I was with the Mets, it was something new every year.  In ’08, I ran full speed into the wall and fractured my left scapula.  I was out eight weeks with that.  I’ve had such bad luck.  It’s almost like how much more can I play or should I play.”

Have you had that thought kind of cross your mind recently with everything that’s happened?

“Yeah.  Especially the last couple days.  Just…what could possibly happen next?  This is pretty serious.  Hopefully, nothing more serious happens, but like I said, every year it’s always something new.  You just kind of sit back and think about it.  But my mentality is I just love the game and I want to go out there and play.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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