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Happ feels fortunate to escape serious harm

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ sustained what appeared to be a horrific injury, being struck on the side of the head by a line drive pitching Tuesday night against the Tampa Rays. The first thing he wanted to do while being taken by ambulance to the hospital was call his mom, Sue Happ of Peru and let her know he was OK.

“They were holding the phone up to my ear and I told my mom I was OK and  let everyone (know). She was definitely relieved ... glad to hear by voice,” Happ said during a press conference Wednesday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., less than 24 hours after being struck. That press conference can be viewed online at mlb.com.

That call and positive prognosis of his injury brought a sense of relief not only to Happ’s family back home, but to the whole baseball community.  Desmond Jennings, the Rays batter who hit the ball that struck Happ, sought out Happ to express his sorrow.

“I would like to say, too, that the whole baseball community has been unbelievable with the messages I’m receiving, the things people are saying and all the prayers, And I really think that helped,” Happ said. “I feel fortunate.”

Happ’s injury was felt back at St. Bede Academy, where athletic director Tom McGunnigal said his heart stopped when he heard the news of the 2001 alumn. By the time he first saw the video, McGunnigal knew Happ was going to be OK. But even then, McGunnigal said, ‘When you see it, wow, how is he all right?

“It happened so quickly, you know the force of what was going in and coming back at you,” McGunnigal added. “I immediately started praying for him that he’d be OK and well taken care of and everything was going to be fine.”

Happ, the 2001 BCR Athlete of the Year out of St. Bede, said he doesn’t remember being struck on the left ear by the batted ball, only that he had a loud ringing in his ear.

“It took me a few seconds to figure out what was going on... I was coherent. I was talking,” Happ said. “I felt a lot of pressure on my ear, that’s why I was holding it. I looked down and saw some blood on my hand.

“Obviously with the Brandon McCarthy injury last year, this type of thing is scary, you never know. But the paramedics and our trainers did a great job, they kept me comfortable and kept me calmed down.”

McCarthy was struck in the head by a batted ball last year and had intensive surgery as a result of a skull fracture and an epidural hemorrhage. He has returned to pitching this year for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In watching the video of his incident, Happ saw that he moved just enough to escape more serious injury. As it is, he sustained a fracture to the skull just behind his ear.

“It  looks like I moved just enough that it must have caught me in a better spot. I got some stitches and there’s a fracture in the bone in my skull behind my ear. But it’s not serious or threatening. We’ll let those heal.”

If the symptoms change, he said, “I need to let the doctors know, but I think they’re pretty confident that things will be fine.”

The 30-year-old left-hander also sustained a knee injury as a result of twisting away from the ball and falling to the ground. He left the hospital and walked into Wednesday’s press conference on crutches. The extent of that knee injury was unknown, but Happ said he is praying that everything is intact.

Happ has been advised by doctors not to fly for the time being and he will remain in the Tampa Bay area, able to rehab in nearby Dunedin, the spring home for the Blue Jays. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list, but there is no timetable set for his return. He said he doesn’t anticipate having any problems with fear factor of pitching again, but won’t know “till I’m up there.”

“I think you’ve got to get back out there and try to forget about it,” he added. “I don’t think there’s a ton of concern.”

“I know he’s going to get back on that mound and he’s going to be OK,” McGunnigal said. “He’s too tough of a competitor, too much of strong kid, not to get back up there.”

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