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Former Gators catcher Brian Jeroloman in a minor-league game this season. (Ron Crowley/TheCrowleyCollection.com).

Wednesday September 11, 2013Former Gators Catcher Jeroloman on Road to Recovery

Former Gators catcher Brian Jeroloman in a minor-league game this season. (Ron Crowley/TheCrowleyCollection.com).

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the play-by-play account of the game, the most famous play in the career of former Gators catcher Brian Jeroloman reads like this:

Jamie Johnson reaches on a fielder's choice, fielded by second baseman Rich Hague. Brandon Douglas scores.

Jerolomon is not even mentioned.

If you have seen the play -- based on recent YouTube statistics Johnson's grounder to second base has more than 250,000 views -- you know Jeroloman is swept away by the tsunami named Douglas in what some are calling one of the worst home-plate collisions in recent baseball history.

The play (see video below) made the rounds on sports highlight shows and even appeared on NBC's "The Today Show."

Jeroloman isn't among the quarter of a million YouTube viewers who have watched the violent collision from Game 1 of the Eastern League Playoffs between Jeroloman's Harrisburg Senators and Douglas' Erie Seawolves a week ago.

"I told him not to,'' said Savannah Evans, a former UF gymnast who now works in Florida's compliance department. Evans is also Jeroloman's fiancée. "I only watched it once. I refuse to watch it again because it pretty much made me want to vomit."

With one out in the bottom of the seventh inning and the game tied 3-3, Douglas led off the inning with a double against Harrisburg pitcher Richie Mirowski. He had advanced to third when Johnson stepped to the plate with one out.

Jeroloman was in his usual spot behind the plate waiting on Mirowski's pitch when Johnson bounced a low-inside breaking ball toward second. Hague fielded the ball cleanly and came home with the throw.

What happened next was a collision more violent than anything in the Florida-Miami football game on Saturday.

As Jeroloman took the throw from Hague, the 6-foot, 200-pound Douglas charged and lowered his shoulder, plowing into Jeroloman, listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. Both players fell to the turf at Erie's Jerry Uht Park.

"He barrels over the catcher. The ball got away. Douglas will crawl to the plate. He is safe."

As the Seawolves' play-by-play announcer frantically described the play, Jeroloman's helmet twirled in the dirt while Mirowski retrieved the baseball near where Jeroloman's catcher's mitt rested.

Jeroloman lay sprawled out on his back while his mom, Rita, and his grandmother looked on from the stands. They happened to be in town visiting.

"It's the hardest I've even been hit, and I've been hit pretty hard,'' he said Tuesday in a phone interview. "That night, it was a tough night."

Known as a cerebral catcher with excellent defensive skills, Jeroloman eventually made it to his feet after being attended to by trainers for several minutes. He was able to walk to a nearby golf cart to be transported by ambulance to St. Vincent Hospital.

Jerolomon was diagnosed with a mild concussion and placed on the disabled list the next day, ending his 2013 season. However, complicating matters was a gash on his neck that required stitches.

Jeroloman said no one is still sure what exactly caused the cut during the collision -- perhaps Douglas' helmet or another piece of equipment -- but it was serious enough that he needed a breathing tube and immediate attention once he got to the hospital.

He was released from the hospital Sunday morning and when Jeroloman answered his phone late Tuesday afternoon, his voice sounded much different than you might expect from the crumpled player in that YouTube video.

"I'm actually doing great,'' the 28-year-old Jeroloman said. "People are surprised. Every time I talk to somebody, they are expecting me to sound like I'm out of it. I feel good enough that I could play. There is no way they would let me, but that's how good I actually feel."

Doctors told Jeroloman to rest and give his body time to heal. He is expected to have the stiches removed from his neck in the next few days. Meanwhile, the Senators came back to win after Jeroloman was injured and won the best-of-five series. They are now in the Eastern League finals.

The collision and subsequent media coverage has renewed debate whether baseball should do more to protect catchers from such violent collisions. The debate raged in 2011 when Giants catcher Buster Posey, the National League Rookie of the Year in 2010, suffered a season-inning injury on a collision at the plate.

After spending seven seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, Jeroloman is now a member of the Washington Nationals organization.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson told The Washington Post he is not in favor of major rule changes.

“That’s part of the game,” Johnson told the newspaper when asked about the collision between Douglas and Jeroloman. “He’s got all this gear on. He’s got the ball ahead of you. You got to run over him. Same as a second baseman – they get down there early enough, they take me out. That’s just part of the game."

Still, the play has sparked discussion about potential rule changes all the way to Major League Baseball headquarters in New York.

Jeroloman made it clear he does not hold a grudge against Douglas, who played college baseball at Northern Iowa and was the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in 2008.

"I talked to Brandon. He apologized about it. I got upset with him for apologizing,'' Jeroloman said. "I just want to make sure that Brandon doesn't feel like a vicious player.

"In my eyes, he did nothing wrong. It was a clean play by the rulebook. Him going after my head, I'm not a fan of that, but there is nothing that states that you can't. He was trying to play the game hard. It was the playoffs. I see both sides of the fence."

Jeroloman said he remembers everything that happened prior to the collision. The moments immediately afterward remain a little fuzzy. At the hospital, Harrisburg manager Matt LeCroy, a former catcher for the Twins, and the team's trainers arrived shortly after the game to check on him.

Jeroloman said their presence helped him relax and begin to realize he was going to be fine. He also received countless text messages from former teammates, coaches and friends after they saw the play on TV or the Internet.

He called Evans as soon as he could and told her he was OK in a voice mail. Of course, once she saw the replay, her concerns grew until she was able to speak to him.

"I had like a thousand thoughts going through my mind, which were all bad,'' she said. "I was a little bit of a mess."

Evans and Jeroloman met in 2003 when they were both UF students. They are engaged to be married on Oct. 29, their 10-year anniversary.

"She met me by knocking on the wrong door,'' said Jeroloman, a sixth-round pick of Toronto in 2006. "Biggest mistake she ever made."

Their baseball journey has included stops all over the country for Jeroloman, who has played in the New York-Penn League, Florida State League, Eastern League, International League and Pacific Coast League.

A real-life version of Crash Davis, the veteran catcher played by Kevin Costner in the movie "Bull Durham," Jeroloman made The Show in August 2011 when he was called up to the big leagues.

He spent 37 days in the majors but did not play due to a wrist injury suffered the day before he got called up. When the wrist began hurting during batting practice in Toronto, trainers discovered a fracture that kept him sidelined but on the active roster.

"It's one of those things that I know I'm ready to be there, that I can be there and should be there, it's just a matter of being able to stay healthy,'' he said. "Injuries have gotten in my way. I've had everything from hip surgery to knee surgery to [another] knee surgery to nerve surgery. It's one of those things that if I stayed healthy, I would be up there for a long time."

Prior to his season-ending injury, Jeroloman had already had an eventful season. He signed with the Indians in December, was traded to Pittsburgh at the end of spring training and then dealt to Washington in May.

He remains focused on getting back to the majors and finally getting that first at-bat.

He is also grateful for all the support since the collision thrust him into the headlines.

"It made me feel so much better that so many people cared,'' he said. "I'm surprised at how good I feel. The third day I felt brand new."

Evans can tell he is feeling better. While Jeroloman didn't make it through a full season without an injury like she hoped, she expects him to be back to normal by their wedding day next month.

"He's got his sense of humor back,'' Evans said. "He's on the road to recovery. He sounds like my old Brian."

 

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