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March 24, 2014

Baseball Therapy

The Complicated Recoveries of Aroldis Chapman and Salvador Perez

by Russell A. Carleton


Last Wednesday night, something truly awful occurred in a spring training game between the Royals and Reds. In the sixth inning, Reds closer Aroldis Chapman was getting in some work and faced off against Royals catcher Salvador Perez. In the regular season, that matchup would be compelling stuff, but this was just a fake game, so no one thought much of it. You’ve probably seen the replay of what happened next: Perez squared one up and hit a line drive that caught Chapman in the face. Chapman was taken off the field by stretcher and the game was called off.

Thankfully, Chapman received immediate medical care. Reports are that he was diagnosed as having sustained fractures in his face and a mild concussion. That’s most certainly not a good thing, but as several have pointed out, he could have ended up with much worse. In fact, there are reports that Chapman might be able to pitch in late April if his recovery goes well.

However, there’s more to heal here than just Chapman’s facial bones. The big question on everyone’s mind seems to be how Chapman will heal psychologically. His arm was not affected, and with proper medical care, I trust that his bones will heal. But will he have trouble functioning as a major-league pitcher when he comes back because he’s too traumatized by this event? What of the fact that he was diagnosed as having a concussion? And what of Salvador Perez who, as was clear in the replay, was horrified by what happened? What about everyone else associated with the game who no doubt saw the replay?

If the reader might indulge me while I put on my other hat … I hold a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and while I have never met either Chapman or Perez, I can at least speak intelligently as to what the data out there suggest we might expect after an event like this. So I propose to look at the matter from the perspective of Chapman, Perez, and baseball more generally.

The Neuroanatomy of a Pitcher
Initial reports in the aftermath of the line drive were encouraging: Chapman had never lost consciousness, and he was moving his arms and legs and communicating with the trainers (both Reds and Royals trainers ran out to help) and teammates.

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