NEW YORK - Planted in right field, hands resting tenuously on his unsteady knees, Ryan Church felt as though the stadium was spinning.
He was nauseous and dizzy following a pair of concussions, and one repugnant thought filled his sleep-deprived brain: Don’t vomit.
“I wasn’t right,” Church said. “I still don’t know how I played. I don’t even remember any more. Trying to think back, I don’t even want to talk about it. It makes me sick.”
Still, he pressed on last season, even as his batting average dropped. Determined to help the New York Mets any way he could during the pennant race, Church tried to play through a series of debilitating symptoms caused by two concussions in less than three months.
Looking back now, he knows it was unwise.
“I would be trying not to throw up. Standing in the outfield, just spinning like no other. Just trying to take those deep breaths, like just trying to relax myself, don’t get all panicky,” said Church, traded by the Mets to the Braves last month. “It went on and off the whole year, but mostly the bad stuff was when I first came back. It was way too soon.”
Church is grateful he didn’t sustain a third concussion — he says his doctor told him such an injury could have ended his career. But it’s no wonder he’d take exception to anyone questioning his toughness.
After Mets slugger David Wright was hit in the head by a fastball last weekend, causing a concussion, New York manager Jerry Manuel said Wright was a “different animal” than Church, who was in and out of the lineup last season following his second concussion.
Church was bothered by that statement, inferring that Manuel doubted his tenacity.
“It just felt like a low blow,” Church said Tuesday before the Braves played the Mets. “I saw it. I wasn’t happy. If he had a problem with me or anything like that, you’d think he’d tell it to my face. I had plenty of opportunity to talk while I was wearing that uniform. It just was like, all right, now that I’m wearing another one, why would he come out and say that?”
Manuel said he meant no disrespect. He said he was simply trying to explain that the players involved were different, just like the concussions.
Manuel and Church appeared to have a strained relationship during the outfielder’s 1½ seasons in New York, though publicly they both disputed that perception.
“There’s no ill intent,” Manuel said. “I don’t mean to take a shot at him. If that’s how he felt, I apologize to him. I like Ryan Church.”
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The Mets were criticized for rushing Church back from his next concussion May 20, when he took an accidental knee to the head in Atlanta while sliding into second base trying to break up a game-ending double play.
He was used as a pinch hitter two days later and didn’t go on the disabled list until June 10. In the meantime, he endured a miserable flight with the team to Colorado and its thin air, exacerbating his post-concussion symptoms.
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