By Glen Willett / Staff Writer
By Glen Willett / Staff Writer
Pedro Cota was on top of the world. The freshman pitcher had been working to become one of the top pitchers for RCC since reporting for training camp in Jan. Cota faced a Sacramento City College Panthers lineup Feb. 25, who had tortured the Tigers all series.
As Cota went out to the mound to begin his seventh inning of work, Panthers’ outfielder Justin James stepped into the batter’s box to face him. Cota toed the rubber of the pitcher’s mound he nodded at the sign from Tigers catcher Vinnie Ponce. He took a breath, wound up and threw a perfectly placed fastball to the low inside corner of the plate.
Less than a second later, Cota was on the ground, face covered in blood and lucky to be alive.
James had slammed Cota’s pitch and sent the ball, the equivalent of a six ounce rock, hurtling toward the pitcher at approximately 90 miles per hour giving him no time to raise his guard before the being struck in the jaw and dropping immediately.
Cota was knocked unconscious by the blow and wound up biting through his cheek due to the impact, an injury that would take 10 stitches to repair.
“The only thing I can remember is getting up and heading back to the dugout,” Cota said when asked about his recollection of the event.
“When Pedro got hit I felt it,” said coach Dennis Rogers who himself had been struck by an errant ball from a pitching machine while playing at Cal Poly Pomona 35 years prior.
“A million things go through your mind when you see that happen and not one of them has anything to do with the kid’s future in baseball,” Rodgers said.
Pedro’s future was indeed one that was looking brighter by the day. When he first arrived at camp this season for the Tigers, Cota seemed destined to spend at least one year in the bullpen as either a reliever or closer for RCC. However some strong early outings for Cota had propelled him to the top of the Tigers staff.
Cota’s upward trend was continuing against the Panthers as he had worked six scoreless innings for the Tigers that sunny afternoon.
James, a California Community College Baseball Association pre-season All-American, seemed to have ended it all with one swing of the bat. Oddly enough, it may have been the bat that saved Pedro from suffering a more horrific injury than he actually did.
In an effort to increase the level of safety for their players, many amateur baseball associations have made the move from the older standard aluminum bats to “batted ball coefficient of restitution” (BBCOR) bats. The bats use a different type of weight dispensation which slows the batter’s overall bat speed and decreases bat performance 15-20 percent.
The percentage may have been the difference between the ball that hit Cota, and the ball that hit Brandon Patch on July 25, 2003.
Patch was an 18-year-old playing for an American Legion team in Montana when he was struck in the head by a line drive off of an opponent’s bat. There were only two differences between Cota’s situation and that of Patch.
The first difference was that while James had been using the new BBCOR style of bat against Cota, the batter Patch was facing used the older aluminum style bat without the BBCOR certification.
The second difference was that unlike Cota, Patch never got up. He died at a hospital a few hours later due to the head trauma suffered on the play.
Cota will pitch again for the Tigers. He’s already begun pitching stimulated innings to get back into the rhythm that he had established when the season began and within the next week plans to take part in intra-squad scrimmages while pitching from behind a protective net.
The toughest hurdle for him to overcome will be taking the mound for the first time in live game action. While he may not remember the specifics of the event, it is something that he will never be able to forget.
“I’m just anxious to get back and pitch again,” Cota said.