On June 5, Tonya Carpenter was watching a game between the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox when a broken bat flew into the stands at Fenway Park and struck her head.
Medical personnel immediately attended to Carpenter, 44, before putting her on a stretcher and taking her to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where she remained for a week.
Police initially said Carpenter suffered life-threatening injuries, and the incident forced Major League Baseball to re-evaluate fan safety at stadiums. It garnered national attention, but Charlotte Knights outfielder Tyler Colvin refused to watch footage.
“I heard about it, and I honestly didn’t care to see it,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you hear about it where you know it’s bad. You don’t need to see it.”
Colvin shares a similar experience. As a rookie with the Chicago Cubs in 2010, he suffered a season-ending injury when a broken bat impaled him. The injury has slowed his career, but now as a member of the Chicago White Sox organization, he has an opportunity to return to Chicago.
Born in Augusta, Ga., on Sept. 5, 1985, Colvin grew up in North Augusta, S.C., about 4 miles from the home of the Masters tournament. He dabbled with golf, but his true love was baseball.
Tyler’s grandfather, Jerry Colvin, taught him the game. Known as “Pap” to the Colvin family, Jerry, 75, coached Tyler in Little League and played catch with him. As the sport began to grow on him, Tyler undoubtedly knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“He told me in about the fifth or sixth grade, ‘Pap, I’m going to play major league ball one day,’ ” Jerry said. “And I knew his work ethic was great in high school and everything. I never worried.”
After a standout career at North Augusta High, Tyler stayed in his home state and attended Clemson. As a junior, he batted .356 with 13 home runs, 70 RBI and 23 stolen bases and was selected by the Cubs in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
“It was pure joy. It’s kind of surreal when you’re sitting there,” Tyler said. “At that time, we didn’t have anything on TV. It was just on the Internet. So we had to play the radio broadcast of it. Just to hear your name, it’s like, ‘It’s really happening.’”
Despite having Tommy John Surgery after the 2008 season, Tyler rocketed through the Cubs’ organization and made his major league debut on Sept. 21, 2009. In his first full major-league season in 2010, he forced himself into the Cubs’ veteran lineup, hitting .254 with 20 home runs and 56 RBIs.
But on Sept. 19, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., Tyler’s rookie season was unexpectedly cut short.
Tyler stood at third base in the top of the second inning when a pitch broke Welington Castillo’s bat. The sharp end of the bat spun down the third-base line before hitting Tyler in the chest and falling out. It punctured a hole in his skin and left lung, which deflated, but he was unaware.
“I just thought it knocked the breath out of me, which it did,” Tyler said. “But when I touched home, (Cubs pitcher Jeff) Samardzija was like, ‘Are you all right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I just can’t breath.’ And he was like, ‘No, you’re bleeding.’ That’s when I freaked out a little bit.”
Cubs assistant athletic trainer Ed Halbur came out of the dugout and began to put pressure on the wound with a towel. He escorted Tyler to the dugout and then to the clubhouse before Tyler was helicoptered to a nearby hospital.
When the bat punctured Tyler’s lung, only a few inches from his heart, it allowed air into the space between his lung and chest wall. He stayed in the hospital for at least three days before returning to South Carolina with Jerry.
It’s an unfortunate thing that happens, but it’s a part of the game honestly. There are going to be broken bats. Guys are throwing hard, they have good stuff and we get fooled.
Knights outfielder Tyler Colvin
Tyler spent most of that offseason doing breathing exercises to get his lung back to full capacity. But he doesn’t blame his abbreviated prep time for the step back he took in 2011, when he hit .150 in 80 games before being traded to the Colorado Rockies.
Colorado released Tyler after the 2013 season. He spent part of the 2014 season with the San Francisco Giants before being designated for assignment and later becoming a free agent.
“At a certain point a team thinks they’re going to be better off going a different way, so you gotta find a new job,” Tyler said. “You get to meet new people, you get to hear different things about the game maybe you haven’t thought that way. You’re just continuously learning.”
After spending spring training with the Miami Marlins as a non-roster invitee, Tyler spent one month at home before being signed by the White Sox in May and designated to Charlotte.
Tyler hit .228 in 16 games for the Knights in May, but he’s batting .276 with nine extra-base hits and five RBIs in June. A potential promotion to the major leagues will return him to Chicago, although as a member of a different organization.
The incident near Miami could have pushed Tyler away from the game or caused him to fear using a maple bat. But with a maple bat in hand, he’s proving that’s not the case.
“It’s an unfortunate thing that happens, but it’s a part of the game, honestly,” he said. “There are going to be broken bats. Guys are throwing hard, they have good stuff and we get fooled.”