Ankle fracture sends Pesky home
Johnny Pesky received a surcial boot, some crutches, and advice to head home to Boston, after being struck in the leg with a line drive. (AP Photo)
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- They didn't know who the old man was, these college kids from Denison University, a Division 3 school in Ohio that has sent its baseball team down here the last three springs to play some games because they have an inside connection to the Red Sox. David Lucchino, a Denison grad, is the nephew of Sox CEO Larry Lucchino.
''We thought it was just some crazy old guy sitting down the left-field line," said Justin Dedman, the Denison assistant coach.
But that all changed when Todd Pitt, a senior and Denison's star center fielder, hit a line drive that struck Johnny Pesky, who was sitting in a folding chair no more than 50 feet beyond the infield.
''The catcher said to me, 'Nice going,' " said Pitt, who yesterday recounted his conversation with Marc Exarhopoulos, who was behind the plate for Suffolk University in Saturday's game.
''I said, 'Why, who is it -- I had an idea it might be somebody important -- and he said, 'Johnny Pesky.' I thought, 'Oh, great, I hit a legend.' I felt terrible."
The morning after, Pesky was sitting in another folding chair, this one in the Red Sox clubhouse, crutches across one knee and a surgical boot on his left foot, telling reporters the line drive had left him with a hairline fracture of his fibula, just above the ankle. The injury was cutting his spring short. Pesky, on the advice of the Sox medical staff, was planning to return to Boston today.
''I've been in the game over 60 years," Pesky said, ''and this is the first time I've been hit by a line drive. I'm used to ducking and dodging."
Pesky, 86, said he'd gone out on the back field, behind City of Palms Park where the Sox play, because he'd wanted to impart some advice to the Suffolk shortstop, Jake Bruce. Of course, he acknowledged, he could have waited for the kid in the dugout. ''Stupid of me."
A half-hour before Pesky was hit, Sox manager Terry Francona had told reporters he feared something like that would happen, since Pesky often sat on the field during batting practice and didn't always keep an eye on the action. That, and the fact that at his age, Pesky wouldn't be able to get out of harm's way.
But Francona, who has Pesky deliver the lineup card before the Sox' games here, said he never would be the one to ask Pesky to turn in his uniform. Especially not after the team's greatest living ambassador lost his wife of more than 60 years, Ruthie, last year.
''You can't take the game away from him, it would kill him," Francona said yesterday. ''I don't want to be any part of that. I love the guy."
Pesky said when the ball first struck him, it stung, but he didn't think he was badly hurt. Neither did Pitt. ''He stood up and he waved everybody off," Pitt said. ''He sat right back down and told people, 'I'm fine.' "
But then Pesky looked down. ''My pants were all bloody and my shoes filled with blood," he said. ''I haven't bled like that since I was 19."
He was taken to the Sox training room, and given a couple of stitches to close the gash in his ankle. X-rays showed the fracture.
Afterward, Pitt went into the Sox clubhouse hoping to see Pesky, but was told he was resting. ''Oh, man, I'm very to sorry to hear that," he said yesterday after learning the extent of Pesky's injuries. ''Hopefully, he'll be OK. Any way I can write or send him a note to tell him how sorry I am?"
Pesky was impressed to hear that Pitt had hit for the cycle in Denison's 14-11 win. He also admitted that after all these years, just maybe he's lost a step.
''Could be," he said. ''I'm a senior citizen now."
Pesky said he was told he will need 4-6 weeks to recover, but he wants to beat that schedule. He plans to be back on the field at Fenway Park when the Sox play their home opener April 11.
''I sure as hell don't want to fall down," he said. ''But the 'Woodpecker' will be there. Don't worry about that."