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PHOENIX (AP) — Three weeks after he took a line drive to the face that nearly killed him, relief pitcher Evan Marshall was back at Chase Field on Tuesday night, hugging his teammates and recounting what so far has been a remarkably fast recovery.
After a strong season with the Diamondbacks in 2014, Marshall struggled this year and had been sent to the minors, where his game had improved greatly.
He was pitching for Triple-A Reno in El Paso on Aug. 4 when Jason Haggerty unleashed a vicious line drive up the middle.
"I never saw the ball but I knew it was coming," Marshall said at a news conference before the Diamondbacks faced the St. Louis Cardinals. "I kind of flinched and it hit me pretty firm on the right side of my face. It ricocheted all the way to first base. He picked up the ball and stepped on the bag to end the inning. Poetic justice for what happened."
The ball was traveling at an estimated 105 mph when it hit him.
The 25-year-old right-hander was able to walk off but started getting sick in the dugout. Within minutes, he was in a hospital, where a scan was taken that showed a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain. He was rushed to the University of Texas-El Paso and immediately into surgery.
"It was a very severe brain injury," said Dr. Christina Kwasnica, director of rehabilitation at the Barrow Neurological Institute of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. "I hate to talk about it in front of patients, but it was a hit right in the wrong part of the skull, where the skull is thin. And right below there is an artery, so he had immediate bleeding."
Every second counted.
"Damage was being done with the pressure that was building in the skull," Marshall said. "They got me opened up and they relieved the pressure really fast and stopped the damage from being done. Twenty staples up the side of my head. If those scars are the price I have to pay to continue to play, that's fine.
"The speed of which they did everything is what prevented the damage from being done. I was minutes away from not making it."
His wife Allie was back in Reno, watching the contest on "Game Tracker," and all she saw was a routine out. Then came the awful call from Andrew Hauser, the Diamondbacks' minor league medical coordinator.
"Ev was in critical condition, had a fractured skull," she said he told her. "His brain was bleeding. They didn't know if he was going to make it through the night."
The Diamondbacks immediately flew her to El Paso.
"The doctors in El Paso and the staff, they saved my husband's life," she said. "It was terrifying, absolutely terrifying. We're going on two years of marriage. I've known this kid for six years and to be told you may lose your spouse."
When he awoke, Marshall could feel the effects of the injury. Two weeks ago, he was transferred to Barrow, one of the country's top neurological facilities. His improvement has been dramatic.
"At first it was a little cloudy behind my eyes," Marshall said. "Thinking was a little hard, even carrying a conversation on. But they explained to me that the more that I talked and conversed with people, the more math and problem solving that I did, the connections would rebuild."
Dr. Kwasnica has marveled at the speed with which Marshall has improved. A week ago, he was sent home.
"Right now he's in outpatient therapy," she said. "The focus of therapy right now is brain recovery and making sure everything is back to baseline. Then the focus will shift to returning him back as an athlete, which he wants to have happen as quickly as possible.
"It's remarkable we're even having this discussion and are talking about this kind of thing three weeks after it happened."
If Marshall played a contact sport like football or hockey, his career would be over, Dr. Kwasnica said.
But she believes he can return to baseball, with some protective wear.
Marshall said he isn't worried about that day he climbs back on the mound.
"When this happened I never saw the ball," he said. "I haven't seen the video, either. It was like I got blindsided with 105 (mph) and just have to deal with it. I'm not worried or scared about that day. And if the worst thing that happens from all this is I have to a wear a funny-looking hat to continue my career, I'll take it."
And his wife wants him to go back to work.
"This guy has shown a ridiculous amount of strength these past couple of weeks," she said. "I can't wait to see him back out there."
Marshall quickly added, "We'll get her a funny hat to wear, too."
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