Bill Hass on Baseball:Del Orbe’s return: ‘It was really emotional’

Posted by Guest Columnist on May 15, 2014 at 10:01 am under Professional | Comments are off for this article

“It’s unbelievable and I’m full of happiness for him,” said pitcher Sean Donatello, who was there in Charleston, WV, on Aug. 13 when del Orbe was struck in the right temple by the line drive in the sixth inning. “The work ethic and courage he’s shown to be able to come back in such a short time, it’s incredible.”

Del Orbe’s return: ‘It was really emotional’

Ramon del Orbe never lost faith in himself.

So he wasn’t surprised when, just nine months and one day after suffering a fractured skull from a line drive, he was wearing a Greensboro Grasshoppers uniform again and pitching in a live baseball game.

Del Orbe pitched three innings in relief Wednesday and earned the save as the Hoppers beat Rome 8-3 at NewBridge Bank Park.

“It was really emotional,” he said, with teammate Carlos Lopez translating.

It was for just about everyone else, too.

“It’s unbelievable and I’m full of happiness for him,” said pitcher Sean Donatello, who was there in Charleston, WV, on Aug. 13 when del Orbe was struck in the right temple by the line drive in the sixth inning. “The work ethic and courage he’s shown to be able to come back in such a short time, it’s incredible.”

Trainer Ben Cates was one of the first people to del Orbe’s side that night. Because of the nature of the injury, it took about 45 minutes for him to be loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital next door to the stadium. Del Orbe’s skull was fractured in two places and he underwent surgery to stop internal bleeding. Cates stayed in Charleston until del Orbe was transferred to a hospital in Miami a little over a week later.

“I wasn’t sure this day was going to happen,” Cates said. “I get chills and choked up when I think about where he came from and where he is now. I couldn’t be happier for him.”

A second surgery was necessary in an attempt to reattach a piece of skull removed during the first surgery. When that didn’t work, a metal plate was inserted. Eventually del Orbe returned to his home in the Dominican Republic.

“I took two or three weeks off,” he said through Lopez, “and after that I began to throw.”

He went to spring training early and began the process of becoming a pitcher again, feeling more comfortable day by day. He was fitted with a special hat, with extra padding around the inside to provide a cushion, and he’s not allowed to pitch without it.

“When I first put it on it feels heavy,” he said, “but when I get on the mound I don’t feel it.”

The plan was for del Orbe to get in some innings Wednesday, but no one knew what to expect. Although he had pitched five scoreless innings in his last start in extended spring, pitching under the lights in a real game was a different story.

He entered in the top of the seventh inning with the Hoppers leading 5-0. His first pitch was a fastball for a strike to Braves batter Victor Caratini. He struck out Caratini and then faced a real test. Joey Meneses hit a hard grounder right at del Orbe, who knocked it down, pounced on the ball and threw him out.

“I wasn’t afraid at all,” he said. “It was just a reaction.”

But it’s a reaction not every pitcher makes.

“I’ve seen guys who were hit on other parts of their body and they flinch on a fly ball to center field,” said manager David Berg. “It’s a miracle he’s pitching again and it has taken a lot of courage.”

Del Orbe ran into some difficulty, giving up two singles and then a home run that cut the lead to 5-3. But the Hoppers got those three runs back in the bottom of the seventh and del Orbe finished the game, getting a double play in each of the last two innings.

“After I gave up the home run, I said ‘that’s over with and now I want to finish the game,’” del Orbe said. “I didn’t have my best stuff, but I got the job done.”

Catcher Chad Wallach, catching del Orbe for the first time, said he was impressed with the right-hander’s pitching.

“He has a live fastball that really comes out of his hand,” Wallach said, “and a slider that is a strikeout pitch. Even if he wasn’t coming back from that injury I would have been impressed. That just adds to the story.”

Brian Chattin, the director of player development for the Marlins, is in to watch this three-game series. Although he didn’t plan it that way, he was elated to see del Orbe pitch.

“This is truly remarkable,” Chattin said before the game. “After an injury of that nature, it was his quality of life that we were concerned with and his baseball career was secondary. It’s a credit to the medical staff and the rehab facility and a credit to Ramon for his fortitude, confidence, will and desire.

“He’s the same guy he’s always been — dedicated, committed and happy with a good outlook. He wants to compete. He’s past (what happened) now.”

After the game, Chattin said that seeing del Orbe pitch “is the highlight of my season. He threw the ball well and competed well.”

Pitching coach Jeremy Powell said the results weren’t as important as just seeing del Orbe back on the mound less than a year after his injury.

“It’s a huge deal for our organization,” Powell said. “It speaks well to the type of heart that he has. He’s mentally tough and he has a big arm with a plus fastball and plus slider. He’ll be a multiple innings guy out of the bullpen. Hopefully we can get him on a nice roll.”

Del Orbe said he thinks about what happened to him all the time, but believes that it has made him less afraid when he’s on the mound. And his determination to come back never wavered.

“I always had faith in myself,” he said.

NOTES: The Hoppers broke a three-game losing streak as J.T. Riddle had four hits, Cody Keefer added three and Carlos Lopez cracked two doubles and his first homer of the year. Justin Bohn, who had missed several games after being hit on the hand with a pitch, didn’t start but came in to play second base in the sixth inning and belted his third homer of the year … Domingo German started and pitched six shutout innings, allowing just two hits while walking one and striking out three as he picked up his third victory and lowered his ERA to 1.91 … The teams play again Thursday night at 7 o’clock.

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