Dustin Fowler, June 29, 2017

A Baseball Story: Dustin Fowler Battles Back After Gruesome Injury

A common theme throughout Reflections On Baseball surrounds the element of the humanness of the men who play this game. The ups and downs, the long road to make it to The Show, and staying there. This is one of those baseball stories reaching far from heartbreak to heart-rendering – this is the story of Dustin Fowler.

You are Dustin Fowler, selected by the New York Yankees in the 13th round of the June 2013 MLB amateur draft, straight out of high school in Dexter, Georgia. You were never shot out of a gun to the major leagues. Instead, you plowed your way from the Gulf Coast Rookie League, through the entire Yankees farm system, ultimately reaching the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders in 2017.

Your numbers were good, but not spectacular. The Yankees liked you mainly for your speed and defense as a center fielder. But you showed the team you could hit some too, batting .293 with Scranton, and showing some new found pop in your bat with 13 home runs and 43 driven in over only 70 games.

The call every professional ballplayer waits for came at the end of June last season. Then manager Joe Girardi wasted no time in inserting Dustin Fowler as his right fielder in a game in Chicago against the White Sox on June 29. Things happened so fast Fowler’s parents couldn’t make it to the game on time. Instead, they would see their son only when they arrived at the hospital.

Most Yankees fans and fans of baseball are aware of what happened that night in the Windy City before Dustin Fowler even before he had his first at-bat in the big leagues. And how the young man, not realizing the extent of what had happened to his body when he crashed into a wall chasing down a foul ball in the right-field corner.

And how at first he appeared stunned and disoriented, bouncing up, and then collapsing in a heap on the turf. And the sight of Girardi in tears looking at his young and fallen player, but apparently unable to sustain the view of what his eyes saw.

As these stories tend to go, a round of empathy swelled up in the media immediately following the incident, but eventually, the story went away, and Dustin Fowler was left to deal with the wayward direction his baseball career had taken in one split second, left only to adjust to the rehab on its way.

There were inspections made of the area where Fowler’s knee collided with the wall and it was felt by many the padding was inadequate to handle the force generated. Fowler himself would later file suit against the White Sox claiming, as reported by ESPN:

Fowler’s lawsuit — filed Friday in Cook County Circuit Court, according to the Chicago Sun-Times — claims negligence on the part of the White Sox and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority in not properly securing the unpadded electrical box he crashed into.ESPN

For most Yankees fans, the next time we heard of Dustin Fowler was when he was traded at the end of July last year to the Oakland A’s as part of the deal sending Sonny Gray to the Yankees. The trade, as recalled, was a typical Billy Beane spectacular sending his best pitcher to the Yankees in return for a crop of prospects.

In addition to Dustin Fowler, who was apparently a question mark at this point, Beane asked for and received James Kaprielian and Jorge Mateo. Kaprelian came to the A’s like a wounded warrior and is still on the path of rehabbing from last year’s surgery. As for Mateo, he is reportedly slowed by a knee issue he sustained during the offseason.

Not so, though, with Dustin Fowler who has battled his way back and is challenging for a position as the A’s starting center fielder this season. The A’s want him to succeed, and it’s only a matter of his health continuing as the season wears forward.

Gary Phillips of FanRag Sports see only upside in Dustin Fowler’s comments to reporters in Spring Training:

I’m always a guy that’s going to try and do everything I can to make the play. [I] got to it too aggressively,” Fowler said a few days after the injury. “I don’t really regret anything. I think I would give the same effort if I did it all over again. I’m biting at the bit to get out there and play,” he said. “Every day the trainers say I’m right where I should be, I feel a little bit better. It was a bad injury, but I am very happy to be here.Gary Phillips, FanRag Sports

This baseball story cannot be complete without a reminder of how often fate intervenes in life. Consider the whole episode involving Dustin Fowler in a different light, and you can easily come away with a whole different experience.

Dustin Fowler is now in a position to play every day with a team that wants him to play every day (if he can). The pinstripes are gone, but he is still wearing a major league uniform with a chance to develop a career lasting for at least a decade.

Take Fowler’s circumstances, as opposed to the likes of Estevan Florial, Clint Frazier, Chance Adams, Billy McKinney, Tyler Austin, and a host of others on the way who are blocked due to an overflow of talent on the Yankees.

On the one hand, who wouldn’t or doesn’t want to wear the pinstripes? But if not for the injury suffered by Dustin Fowler last season, we can only wonder (and perhaps he does too), would he be stuck in this quagmire of talent the Yankees feast upon today?

Again, for anyone who witnessed that awful night in June last year (I can’t watch it, but it’s here,) the sight of Fowler playing for the A’s against the Yankees in 2018 hopefully comes about only when the Yankees have an 8-1 lead. So when he comes to the plate and crushes one as a reminder of all the talent that could have stayed in New York, except for one pitch, one game, and one fly ball last June.

These are the stories about the men behind the game…

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