CARY, N.C. -– Less than four months have passed since that cold morning of January 29, when Pat McCarthy and a salt truck collided on a road in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
He remembers nothing of the day -- the 6 a.m. practice session with his Seton Hill teammates, leaving for an appointment with his eye doctor -- nothing. Not a thing. All he knows about the mishap itself is what he’s been told.
The details are breathtaking, and not in a good way. McCarthy says his car wound up underneath the rear of the truck, and its axle apparently came through his windshield and struck him in the head.
As quick as a snap of the fingers, his 2014 baseball season was over before it ever began. Seton Hill head coach Marc Marizzaldi had spent part of that early morning throwing McCarthy batting practice, and just a few hours later, Marizzaldi was by McCarthy’s bedside watching him fight for his life.
According to Marizzaldi, the young man sustained a skull fracture, brain bleed and multiple facial fractures. He’s since had a metal plate inserted into his head and plastic surgery to repair damage to his orbital bones and nose.
This was no benchwarmer, either. McCarthy, a second baseman, hit .397 with 22 doubles and 35 stolen bases, and then there was Marizzaldi’s Warrior Test -- nine different challenges such as pushups, pullups, distance runs and so forth. At one point, McCarthy squatted 175 pounds 99 times. He is the third brother to play baseball at Seton Hill, and a younger sister will start school there in the fall.
“Pat is the toughest kid I’ve probably ever coached,” Marizzaldi said, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with the accident. “He’s a physical specimen.”
McCarthy was missed, but never forgotten, by the Griffins. Marizzaldi, his coaching staff and maybe 20 members of the team all shaved their heads to show their support through the surgeries he was forced to endure.
“That meant a lot,” McCarthy said. “At the time, I was kind of growing my hair out for the season. Unfortunately, I had to shave it all off for the surgery. Just seeing those guys do that for me really showed me that my whole team had my back. It was just a great feeling.”
After spending about nine days in the hospital, McCarthy recuperated at home for another four weeks or so. As soon as he could, he was back at the field and watching as Seton Hill made it all the way to this week’s NCAA Division II baseball World Series.
Talk about difficult … that was it, just sitting and watching.
“It’s been tough,” McCarthy said. “It’s been getting better, though. I’m allowed to do a little bit more baseball activities, but at the start, it was really tough. I wasn’t really allowed to do pretty much anything.
“I kind of just went to practice and had to sit there and watch other guys do everything. It was real hard on me, knowing that I wasn’t out there. It was just really mentally tough, but it’s been getting better and better.”
His baseball season was shot, and so was the school year.
Or was it?
A forensic science major who plans to one day investigate crime scenes, he was a month or two behind in his schoolwork when he contacted his professors and worked out a plan to make it all up. McCarthy did just that, and get this.
He came through the ordeal with a 4.0 GPA for the semester. Incredible. Although he’s already graduated, McCarthy plans to enter grad school at Seton Hill … and play baseball for the Griffins in 2015.
For him, it’s a second chance and he’s determined to make the most of it.
“It really means a lot to me that I’m able to come back and play,” McCarthy said. “There was a point there where I wasn’t really sure if I was going to be able to.
“This accident has really taught me to not take anything for granted. I’m realizing that baseball is a privilege. I really have to take it one day at a time and really cherish every day I have on the ball field.”