Tom Perkins has seen a lot of players hit by a baseball during his 50-some years on the diamond.
But last Thursday was the first time he saw a player get hit and not get up.
It happened in the first inning of Loma Linda Academy’s nonleague game against Mesa Grande Academy. Junior shortstop Michael Martinez was batting, turned to bunt and missed. The pitch struck him in the chest.
What happened next shook the Roadrunners to the core.
Martinez took a couple of steps toward Perkins, coaching at third base, then collapsed. Perkins, who has slowed a step or two since suffering a stroke, ran to the side of his fallen player, who had begun convulsing, and had no pulse.
At that point, Perkins’ CPR training kicked in as stunned players – including Martinez’ sophomore brother, Andy -- and fans waited for an ambulance to make it to the Loma Linda Academy field.
A week later, and Andy Martinez returned to practice – one day after his brother returned to the field to watch his teammates in action.
'He'll Just Walk It Off'
It was the first inning of the team’s third game of the young season. For most of the people in attendance, it appeared like any other hit batsman.
“At first, I was like, ‘OK, he’ll just walk it off,’ ” Andy Martinez said. “Because that’s the way he is all the time. But then I saw him walk back to the coach to get instructions, and saw him fall backwards and I was in shock. What just happened?”
“I thought he had the wind knocked out of him,” said assistant coach Danny Lopez. “And then he stood there for a bit. I was worried, but I didn’t think it was much.”
But with the benefit of his angle from third base, Perkins knew something was wrong. And he rushed over to tend to his player without thinking twice.
“I don’t think anything goes through your head, to be honest with you, you just react,” Perkins said Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve been on a ballfield now over 50 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen somebody get hit in the chest. … I’ve been hit and hit people with a lot faster baseballs than this. I played pro ball, and you had 100 mile per hour fastballs, and this wasn’t even close to it. But it was just perfect, a perfect shot. And it was an accident. You don’t expect it to happen, but it does, and it’s scary.”
Martinez was on the ground convulsing. Perkins checked for a pulse, and found none. As Lopez shepherded the rest of the Roadrunners away from the home plate area down the right field line, Perkins began administrating CPR as they waited for medical help – no more than three minutes away at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
“No matter what happens, they’re never fast enough,” Perkins said. “Me, I’m a coach. I’m not a doctor. I reacted because I’ve had CPR, and I knew … my coach Danny could tell you right now, Danny saw, he thought he just knocked the wind out of him. But I’m looking at a different angle and I saw where he got hit.”
A Closer Eye
In the week since, the Roadrunners are trying to get over the shock. They lost their game against Arrowhead Christian on Tuesday 18-0, and followed that with a 10-0 loss to Linfield Christian. But besides the scores, there’s the mental toll the event took on the team.
“We talk about that all the time,” Perkins said of the team. “They’re handling it very well. They say they are. Some are taking it better than others. Michael’s brother just came back out today. Michael showed up yesterday just to be here at least in spirit.”
Besides keeping an eye on his players’ mental reaction to the incident, it’s left Perkins keeping an even closer eye on the players in his charge.
“And now, my thing is, I watch these kids, I watch everything they’re doing, because you think about it,” he said. “I don’t wish it upon anyone, but if it’s taken 60 years for this to happen now, maybe it’ll take another 60 or another 100 years for it to ever happen again.”
It’s also caused a renewed sense for safety among the players and others at the school, Perkins said.
“What we’ve done now is we’re trying to implement CPR here at the school even more,” Perkins said. “And I think it’s a good idea, because 90 percent of the time when something happens, it happens at home. It doesn’t happen on a ballfield, it happens at home. So let them be prepared.”
More troubling in the aftermath for Perkins, however, is being called a hero. He’s uncomfortable with the title.
“I’ve had administrators, I’ve had school, I’ve had people call me, I have Mike’s mom sends me messages, you’re a hero, you’re this,” he said. “No. I have a dream that’s in my head that’s bothered me from the day, and it has to do with … I know I brought him back. But what happens if I didn’t bring him back? Then what do I do? That’s something I get to live with.
“I’m glad when I saw him smile, that made me feel good. And he’s here, and I saw that. And that night when I got over there, I love him dearly. He’s a good ballplayer and a good kid. It’s just something you have to live with. It’s not being about a hero, it’s just I’m a coach who saw something happen. You go, and you relax and what you do, it’s what I was trained to do.”
Martinez’s family, his mother Esmeralda in particular, is hailing the coach as a hero. She has corresponded with him via Facebook messages in Spanish.
One message Perkins shared featured a photo of Perkins with Michael and included the message that translated to read, “He is TOM PERKINS who my father Jehovah put in those crucial moments in the life of my son, infinitely thank you Tom, our family does not have enough words to give you. We love you with all our heart. God bless you.”
And in a separate Facebook message, Esmeralda Martinez said in Spanish, “I give all the thanks to God that I have my son back. Honor and glory to Jehovah. Tom Perkins was that angel that God put in my son's path. Our family will forever be grateful. He is beloved by my sons, Andy and Mike.”
And while Perkins appreciates the sentiments, it has been hard to deal with.
“My downfall is I have that recurring dream that the opposite thing happened, and that bothers me I guess more than anything,” Perkins said. “My wife said you have to let it go, but it’s easier said than done.”
'So I Can Get a New Jersey?'
As for Michael, coaches said that doctors have limited his activity for a month. But in the aftermath, one of his biggest concerns was that his jersey had to be cut open for treatment.
“I talked to him last night, and I asked him how he was doing,” Lopez said. “And he goes, ‘I’m doing fine, I just want to start practicing; I want to get back out there. Can you talk to (Athletic Director) Mr. (Gary) Eggers so I can get a new jersey?’ ”
Perkins, who has coached the Martinez brothers through the years as part of Loma Linda Little League, and his business The Throwing Center, visited him in the hospital later that night, and found him in good spirits.
“First thing out his mouth was, ‘I wasn’t there. I left didn’t I?’ ‘Yep, you did.’ The next words, he goes, ‘Are you going to have me bunt?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, we have practice tomorrow, and you’re bunting.’ And in his words ‘OK, no big deal.’
“The only thing he was upset about was they cut his jersey. Out of everything. He had a needle in his arm and I go, ‘What’s the matter.’ ‘The needle’s killing me. It’s hurting.’ And I go, ‘Michael, at least you’re feeling the pain, aren’t you?’ And he goes, ‘Oh yeah.’ ”
But it will still take some time for recovery. Michael’s mother said during a Facebook interview that she has been taking Michael for check-ups this week. Perkins said that Michael was still experiencing chest pain from the compressions.
And Michael knows that there is pain for now, but there is a lot of life ahead.
“This incident that happened to me is a big eye opener,” Michael said in a Facebook interview. “I see life in a better perspective and I am grateful that God has given me another chance. I appreciate life more. I’d like to thank my Coach Tom Perkins, God put him there for me and I am forever grateful. I knew angels were around me always, but to have one not only as a coach, but as a person who I love so much.”