Church: Concussion comments by Manuel a 'low blow

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Church: Concussion comments by Manuel a 'low blow

By MIKE FITZPATRICK
AP Baseball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 year, 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 Atlanta 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 1 1/2 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.”

Church sustained his first concussion during spring training
last year, when he collided with teammate Marlon Anderson on
March 1.

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.

He came off the disabled list June 29, then went back on from
July 8 to Aug. 22.

Why did Church keep playing? He wanted to help his club, which
collapsed in September and missed the playoffs for the second
consecutive season. When asked by the Mets whether he was OK,
Church said his normal response was, “I’m good.”

He said that sort of stubborn attitude is in a ballplayer’s DNA.
That’s why he didn’t go on the DL immediately after his second
concussion.

“From the outside looking in, the smartest thing to do obviously
was to go on. But for me, I was trying to just get back and
play. I mean, they were telling me if I would have went out
there and got another one, my career would have been over. And
that didn’t really sink in. And it wasn’t like anybody was
telling me, no, don’t do it, go on the DL,” Church said.

Church contacted Wright to offer advice and support to his
former teammate soon after the All-Star third baseman was
diagnosed with a concussion last weekend.

“That’s what I told him: `Don’t be a hero,”’ Church said.

Wright said he appreciated the gesture and was encouraged that
he hadn’t experienced many of the symptoms that troubled Church,
such as nausea and sensitivity to light. Wright was placed on
the 15-day DL the day after he was beaned, even though he
lobbied team executives not to make the move.

Manuel acknowledged that he and Church didn’t communicate very
well about the injury last season.

“We didn’t have clarity on the message that we were getting from
him,” Manuel said. “I’m as much to blame as he is.”

But Church said he doesn’t fault the Mets for how they handled
the situation.

“It was a whole learning process. We all went through it,” he
said. “I’m just thankful that I can still play.”

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