Publish date:

The Playoffs Ain't Brain Surgery

The best part of getting hit in the skull with a line drive—as I was while on the mound in Oakland on Sept. 5—and then having to undergo emergency surgery to relieve pressure in the brain is that you're left with a pretty awesome scar. Mine runs from the front of my right ear around to the back of my head. It's the first time that I've ever had a scar that not only looks tough but has a cool story as well. Now that my hair's growing out, I'm returning to being just a tall, gangly guy again.

What wasn't fun was being unable to pitch for my team as we began the playoffs against Detroit after our ridiculous surge to the AL West title, but I was lucky to be able to watch from the dugout. Things could hardly have gone better for us this season, and that's the real story here, how crazy this all has been for us and for Oakland. For me personally, things could have gone much worse.

The first 24 hours after I was hit were rough, but not so much for me. Just after it happened, I could hear really intense ringing, and, weirdly, the thought of Liam Neeson's wife, the actress Natasha Richardson, kept going through my mind. (She suffered a head injury while skiing in 2009 and died from an epidural hematoma.) That incident had led me to read a lot about head injuries for a time, and when they actually gave me the news that I needed a craniotomy, I wasn't scared. I knew the doctors were doing the right thing.

The situation was hardest on my wife, Amanda, and my family, and I wanted them to know I was prepared. Their being calm and at peace was important to me. I was in surgery for 2½ hours, which was nice because after all the commotion I really needed a nap. G.M. Billy Beane, manager Bob Melvin and trainer Nick Paparesta sat with Amanda, and she and I will be forever grateful for their compassion. It furthered my pride in being an Oakland A; their being there for her was the embodiment of our team-as-a-family mentality.

Once I awoke, I was pleased to be alive (which is a big deal to me) and to be able to recognize and speak to my wife, which is not a guarantee after that surgery. I was also very thirsty, as I had a salt drip to soak up the swelling in the brain. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that the dehydration was easily the worst part of the entire process. This was lost-in-the-desert thirst. I wasn't allowed any water, but on the second night the nurse brought me a few cups of apple juice. I hate apple juice. But this was the greatest liquid to ever cross my lips.

At first I had no peripheral vision. Plus, when I'd try to tweet from my phone, I was typing garbled nonsense. Amanda had to type my first few tweets, like the one in which I joked that I was glad I'd set my fantasy football lineup before all of this. By coming up with funny little thoughts, I wanted to make sure my brain was working normally and also let people know that I was doing just fine.

After day two or three I was able to start watching A's games on TV. During that time I heard from a lot of my teammates, and that was huge for my psyche. It helped me not feel so distant from the team. It was nice of them to hang my jersey up in the dugout, but after about the third day, I wanted them to take it down. I didn't die, and I wasn't suffering. All I was doing was lying in bed, eating grilled cheese sandwich and soup, with a cup of tea.

A week after I was hit, I was able to hang out in the clubhouse, and I was happy to see that nothing had changed. Outfielder Jonny Gomes presented me with a helmet signed by members of the team. On the bill he wrote in big, bold letters heads up. We don't have superstars or anybody who's even recognizable to a casual fan; it almost feels like a Class A clubhouse sometimes. We have a team of guys who don't take themselves too seriously and don't get weighed down by anything—my getting knocked out, or Bartolo Colon being suspended for PEDs, or Brett Anderson straining his oblique. I started to feel we had something special when we just couldn't stop walking teams off early in the summer, and that energy never really left the team. My teammate Yoenis Cespedes—I call him our Jim Brown because he's just way more gifted than everybody else—defected from Cuba and had never played in the U.S. before. I kept trying to tell him that a team like this might happen once in a career.

When I had my most recent checkup with my neurosurgeon, I had to ask: If we get to the World Series, can I come back? He said that it's not impossible—which was all I needed to hear. I have to monitor my concussion symptoms, and if they keep improving, then it's something I'll continue to aim for. After all, our team was 13 games behind in the AL West at the end of June and won the division on the season's last day by beating out teams with way bigger payrolls. Impossible doesn't mean much to us.

If it doesn't happen, I'll always have memories of our incredible ride. After what I went through, there might be no one who values his memories more.

Follow @BMcCarthy32

As my team began the playoffs after our ridiculous surge to the AL West title, I was lucky to be able to watch.