LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Braves minor league manager Luis Salazar regained consciousness and was breathing on his own Wednesday afternoon, after being hit in the face by a foul ball during Atlanta’s 6-1 Grapefruit League loss to St. Louis.
Salazar, 54, was hit by a line drive off the bat of Braves catcher Brian McCann while standing in the dugout in the first inning of a game at Champion Stadium. He was unconscious for at least 20 minutes, and some players and others in the dugout feared he was dead.
He has multiple facial fractures and possible damage to his left eye, but doctors have ruled out brain damage, said a Braves spokesman. Salazary was able to answer doctors’ questions and was resting Wednesday night at Orlando Regional Medical Center, accompanied by his wife, Graciela, son Carlos, and by McCann.
“I’ve really never, in baseball, been through a situation where I felt it was a serious at the time,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “[We] just feel very fortunate and feel blessed that Luis is alive, and that he’s responding and able to communicate with his family and talk.”
McCann was so shaken by the incident that he left the game before the second inning. He went to the hospital with Braves doctor Joe Chandler and player development director Kurt Kemp.
Before they left for the hospital, a Florida State Trooper came to the Braves clubhouse to tell McCann that Salazar was breathing on his own again, and had regained consciousness during the Lifeflight helicopter ride to the downtown hospital.
“He was pretty torn up about it,” Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said of McCann. “I think we all were. At that point, we all would have been better served to probably go home. You really didn’t feel like playing after experiencing something like that.”
Salazar, a former major league player, is entering his first season in the Braves organization as manager of the high-Class A affiliate in Lynchburg, Va. He’s been in major league camp as a coach, and was standing near the railing in the Braves dugout with other coaches and players when a screaming line drive that hit him flush in the left side of his face.
Salazar fell from the fifth step and landed face-first on the dugout floor, his body limp from the moment the ball hit him. He bled extensively and was unresponsive.
“He was bleeding from [his nose] and his mouth, too,” Braves starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez said. ” It was bad. I’ve never seen anything like that. It was real, real bad.”
Jones, on first base when the incident occurred, said it was the worst injury he’d seen.
“It was awful,” he said. “I knew that it hit him in the head. Obviously you worry about somebody’s life at that point. At that close a range. If you see it’s down in the jaw or the back of the head or something, that’s better than up around the eyes and the nose and the temple.
“I just … I wish I wouldn’t have looked. But I did. It was just hard to put into words. I’ve seen it one other time in my career, where a guy took a 90-mph pitch square in the nose, Danny Bautista in Atlanta. I thought that was the worst on-field injury that I’d ever seen, until today.”
Salazar lay motionless during a 14-minute delay in the game. He was attended to by medics and given oxygen. Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols said he could not bear to look in the dugout because he was told that Salazar wasn’t breathing.
Once the Lifeflight helicopter neared the Wide World of Sports complex, Salazar was moved by stretcher to an ambulance that had driven onto the field and waited in front of the dugout.
For an eerily quiet 14 minutes, Braves players, including McCann, stood by as Salazar was surrounded by team trainers, medics and security guards, and fans who sat in stunned silence.
At one point, one player turned away from the scene with his hand over his face.
“I was right behind him when it happened,” Lopez said. ” I saw him fall down and stay there. At first I was like, he’s going to be all right. Then I started to see bleeding and then he didn’t respond to anything the trainer was saying. Then I started to get scared and very nervous….
“Oh, man. It’s still scary. When I talk about it, I get chills.”
Jones said that he and others feared the worst as Salazar lay motionless on the dugout floor.
“A ball hit that hard, at that short a distance, can certainly kill somebody if it hits them in the right spot,” Jones said. “I’m so glad to hear that he’s conscious and breathing on his own. But, yeah, there were some times where there were some worried looks on the some paramedics’ faces.
“I looked at his chest to see if he was breathing, and right when I thought to look at this chest to see if he was breathing, one of the paramedics said, ‘Is he breathing?’ And he put his hand on his chest and said he was breathing really, really shallow. At that point you’re like, his life could be in danger.
“Baseball goes out the window when that’s the case.”
Wren said there were briefly discussions about whether to resume the game, but before the talks got very far, play had resumed.
“To be honest with you I think everyone was kind of in shock,” Wren said, “and all of a sudden the pitcher started throwing and everyone started playing again, and the game started rolling. But it was kind of in the midst of our discussion about what should we do. We were having those discussions and the game just, as it does, started up….
“The game took a real secondary position in all of our thoughts. I mean, to be honest with you I really don’t know what happened in the game, don’t know the details, I don’t know who pitched. From the time that happened, it really didn’t matter to me. I was more concerned that we were doing everything we could for Luis and his family, and trying to get updates and trying to find out exactly where things stood.”
Carlos Salazar, 31, was at the game and went to his mother’s hotel after Luis was airlifted to the hospital. A Braves official picked them up at the hotel and drove them to the hospital.