13 months after life-threatening brain injury, MLB's Poncedeleon ready to debut
Thirteen months ago, right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon was pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds, when a comebacker struck him in the right temple.
“I heard the crack of the bat,” teammate John Brebbia, who witnessed the event from the dugout, told MLB.com. “Then I heard what I thought was another crack of the bat. And it was [Poncedeleon]. I turned around thinking, ‘What happened?’ Then people started rushing the field. ‘Oh,’ I thought. ‘That wasn’t two baseball bats’…”
Poncedeleon went down and stayed down. The shot fractured his skull and caused bleeding in his brain.
He was carted off the field and rushed to the hospital, where he underwent an emergency craniotomy. In the four-hour procedure, surgeons worked to close the arterial laceration and relieve pressure from his cranial cavity.
Poncedeleon went through weeks of rehab and endured three months of inactivity while he recovered. He spent his time in Bible study and Sudoku, and also used the opportunity to get close to his newborn son.
“Daniel left [for baseball] when Casen was 3 months old,” his wife, Jennifer, told MLB.com. “All the time he was able to spend with him, you saw their relationship form completely. They really bonded.”
In February, Poncedeleon finally returned to the field in spring training.
He returned to Memphis and has put together a 5-2 record this year with a 2.41 ERA.
Now the 26-year-old is poised to make his MLB debut. St. Louis called him up Monday before the start of a three-game series against the San Diego Padres.
“I was pretty speechless when I first heard about it,” Poncedeleon said via The Associated Press. “I didn’t believe it. I thought [Redbirds manager] Stubby [Clapp] was playing a little joke on me.”
He didn’t get into Monday’s game, which the Cardinals won 5-2, but he believes he’ll be ready when the opportunity comes.
“It’s been a long road back but it’s taught me a lot,” Poncedeleon said. “It helped me grow up a bit. There was never a doubt I’d come back. I have faith and confidence in myself.”
John Mozeliak, the Cardinals president of baseball operations, marveled at the young pitcher’s journey back from a near-death incident on the mound.
“Perseverance will be part of his biography one day,” Mozeliak said via MLB.com. “Think about it. Worst-case scenario, he could have not survived. Best-case scenario is where we are today.”
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