Salvador Perez arrived to the Royals clubhouse a couple of hours later than usual on Thursday morning.
Manager Ned Yost had given him the day off, but the events of the previous evening, in which his line drive struck Reds closer Aroldis Chapman in the head, left him still upset.
“It hit my heart right there,” Perez said.
After Chapman’s injury on Wednesday, all involved parties agreed to halt the game. Perez hopped in a car and traveled to a local hospital to visit Chapman. The sight lightened his spirits. Chapman was coherent and able to communicate.
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Thursday night, he underwent surgery to repair a fracture above his left eye — doctors inserted a plate in his head — and Cincinnati officials hope he can return in four to six weeks. He also suffered a mild concussion, but his eye sustained no damage. “He’s a very lucky guy,” Reds team doctor Timothy Kremcheck told reporters.
The morning after, though, the memories had yet to fade. The Royals reported to the complex about 12 hours after an ambulance whisked Chapman away from the stadium.
Chapman will remain at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix for a few days. He was transferred there from Surprise on Wednesday night. At the time, it felt hard to call him lucky. The baseball connected with his skull and ricocheted back toward the third-base line.
“At first I thought he got a glove on it, and then I quickly realized that he didn’t,” Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “Everything just stops and, at that point, nothing in the world matters except hoping that kid’s OK.”
Added first baseman Eric Hosmer, “There’s not many times when you can silence all the people in a baseball stadium. That’s something where everyone just goes into shock. You hate seeing it. You wish you didn’t see it. You wish it didn’t happen.”
While Chapman lay prone, Moustakas took a knee behind the plate. Hosmer later tried to comfort Perez. But the catcher bore the weight.
He had meant no harm, which only increased his upset, he said. His bat connected with a fastball clocked at 99 mph. He put his hands on his helmet immediately after making contact.
“I felt terrible,” Perez said, “because I didn’t want to hit anybody. I felt really bad when that happened.”
Hosmer experienced a similar misery last June. He lined a ball off the back of the head of Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb. That night, Hosmer drove with James Shields, Cobb’s former Rays teammate, to a nearby hospital. He still felt upset until Cobb returned to the majors in August.
“It’s a hopeless feeling, because you realize you caused it,” Hosmer said. “But obviously you didn’t mean to do it. It’s a freak accident.”
Perez appeared to still be grappling with those emotions on Thursday. The visit to Chapman did hearten him. He went with Reds catcher and former Royal Brayan Peña and Royals reliever Francisley Bueno.
“He was very happy talking to me,” Peña told reporters. “He was talking a lot about Cuban jokes. That means his memory is still working pretty good.”
Perez met with reporters for two minutes, then went back about his day. He finished his breakfast and headed toward the weight room. En route, his general manager called out to him.
“You’ve got a great heart, Salvy,” Dayton Moore said. “You’ve got a great heart.”
Perez walked toward his general manager and embraced him. After the hug, Perez repeated his lament. He had never meant to hurt Chapman. Those around him understood.
“I feel sad,” Perez said, “that he won’t be there on Opening Day.”