My first full-time job was at a small weekly paper in Western Massachusetts back in the late 1990s. I remember covering a girls basketball game in which two of the top three players on the court suffered season-ending knee injuries within minutes of one another.
At the time, I wrote it off as a freak occurrence (and wondered why on earth any team would still be playing games on a rubber gym floor).Almost 20 years later, I’m instead left wondering whether I might just be some sort of unlucky talisman. I’ve witnessed numerous sports injuries in the years since, and they never seem to stop coming.
Just in the past two weeks, I’ve seen two collisions — one in baseball, one in softball — that caused some pretty hefty damage.
First, the Hauser softball team lost starting center fielder Ali Hoover to a knee injury sustained during a run-in with a teammate. Hoover tore several knee ligaments, including her ACL, and is done for the season.
Then, on Friday evening, I watched an ambulance and a fire truck pull up behind the field after Columbus North baseball players Canaan Baum and Tyler Finke crashed into one another during a game at Cathedral. Though it now seems likely that both players will return to action at some point this spring, both wound up in the emergency room that night.
Broken bones, concussions, blown-out knees — there’s not really any predicting any of it. In many ways, sports are a game of chance. Heck, life is a game of chance. Any of us could have a piano land on us at any moment.
My late high school soccer coach also coached baseball, and he won a state championship in that sport four years after I graduated. Months later, I bumped into him and he told me that you need to be both good and lucky to win a title. That statement has been proven right over and over in the years since.
My favorite pro basketball team, the Boston Celtics, rolled to an NBA championship in 2008 but had their chances to follow up with another one derailed by major late-season injuries the next two years.
Many other good teams in all sports and at all levels have suffered similar fates over the years, and many more will — perhaps even right here in Bartholomew County. Hauser softball and North baseball both came into the season with lofty goals, and the freak occurrences of the past two weeks will certainly make it tougher for the Jets and Bull Dogs to achieve those goals.
That’s not to say they won’t achieve them. Hauser is still unbeaten, still loaded and still more than capable of a repeat state title run. And North certainly has the ability to hang with any high school baseball team in Indiana. And it’s quite possible that both teams could use these adverse situations as fuel for incredible postseason journeys.
If they don’t, we might look back at these two late-April incidents and wonder what might have been.
The injury bug won’t care one bit about that. It bites who it wants, when it wants. All we can do is deal with it.
Those players and teams that are lucky enough to get through a season unscathed should be thankful — because you never know when it might be your turn.
Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for The Republic. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.