On May 7, J.A. Happ became known nationwide.
In the Toronto Blue Jays game at the Tampa Bay Rays, the Peru native and St. Bede graduate was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Tampa Bay outfielder Desmond Jennings.
Happ instantly dropped to the ground, where he held the left side of his head, from which he was bleeding from the ear.
The 30-year-old was rushed to the hospital and his incident instantly became a topic on Twitter, on which he was trending and received numerous messages of support.
Happ was released from the hospital after a day and was placed on the disabled list, where he still remains.
Nearly five weeks after the incident, Happ has recovered from head and ear injuries but has not fully recovered from multiple sprained ligaments in his right knee, which were injured as he fell to the ground after being hit.
He was to visit Chicago — his offseason home — Monday through Wednesday as the Toronto Blue Jays visited the Chicago White Sox.
Instead, Happ is currently rehabbing in Dunedin, Fla., the site of the Blue Jays’ spring training facility.
Following Tuesday’s rehab, he took a few minutes to discuss the incident, his recovery and his alma mater.
NT: How is your recovery progressing?
Happ: I’ve been throwing, things have been feeling better and I’m actually hoping to get on the mound in the next few days to throw my first bullpen session. If all goes well, hopefully I can get into a game the next couple of weeks. I’m sure they’ll have me throw a couple of bullpens and a couple of simulated games before I get a couple of rehab games (in the minor leagues) before returning to Toronto.
NT: Take me through what happened in Tampa when you were hit? What do you remember and what do you recall?
Happ: To be honest, what I remember is barely letting the ball go and then all of a sudden there was kind of an explosion. Everything else was silent. There was a loud ringing and a lot of pressure in my head. The first few moments I thought I somehow got hit on my left side, but then I kind of put it together that the ball must have come back and hit me. The people who were out there were telling me to stay down and not to move too much. I was just kind of holding my head at that point because it felt like there was a lot of pressure.
NT: Did you ever lose consciousness?
Happ: I don’t believe so, no. On the replay, I saw my head moved a little bit to try to get out of the way, but I don’t remember ever seeing the ball. But no, I don’t think I ever lost consciousness. I think I was talking to the trainers out on the field.
NT: Did you want to see the replay or did you just come across it?
Happ: It kind of came up. I realized right away my knee would be an issue, but once the more important stuff was taken care of (with his head and brain) we took a look at the replay so we could see how I turned my knee going down, so we watched it that night, but other than that I haven’t seen it.
NT: What was it like after you left the field? Did you contact your parents?
Happ: In the ambulance, somebody held a phone up to my ear so I could call my parents and let them know I was OK and so they could make the rest of the phone calls to get word out that I was fine. The hospital was OK, a lot of people moving and doing things. They did a great job and they stitched me up and did all the tests they needed to do. But it was pretty chaotic there for a little while.
NT: Was there a lot of outpouring of support?
Happ: The support was tremendous. I got so many messages — literally hundreds of messages on my phone. I don’t have Twitter or anything like that, but I heard through the grapevine that people were sending messages out. There were also cards and some really heart-felt stuff. That just shows you the fraternity of baseball. There were so many guys on other teams and former teammates and coaches and GMs (who reached out), and on the other side you have friends and family who know and care about you. It was really touching to get all the letters and messages. The outpouring was tremendous.
NT: Do you think you’ll have any fear or apprehension when you return to the mound facing live batters?
Happ: I don’t think so. I’m so anxious and so ready to move forward. Patience is not a strong suit of mine so I’m definitely trying to work my butt off to get back. I think there may be some apprehension when I return, but I guess we’ll never know until that time comes. I’m looking forward to competing again and hopefully that will take over any fear that I may have of getting back out there.
NT: What’s it like to not be with the team?
Happ: It’s been tough. I follow all the games, but you always wish that you were there and able to help out — or at least be in the dugout and be a part of it. But I am definitely working as hard as I can to get back. I know I need to be smart about it so I’m trying to listen to my body but at the same time I’m doing everything I physically can to get back and help the team out and be part of the squad again.
NT: Did you know or hear that the St. Bede softball team became the first female sports team ever to qualify for state? It ended up placing fourth.
Happ: Wow, I did not know that but that’s great news! Congratulations to them. I haven’t been able to follow sports too closely in the area, but I do hear some stuff from my parents. But that’s definitely great and I would’ve loved to see it. There’s a pretty strong tradition in our area in baseball and softball, so that’s awesome to see.
Jared Bell be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.