Trietley: Freak accidents even happen to athletes

By Greg Trietley

New York Yankees relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain dislocated his right ankle last Thursday. He… New York Yankees relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain dislocated his right ankle last Thursday. He did this, reportedly, on a trampoline at a children’s play place, where he was with his son.

“As we understand, they were at, they have these kids’ places where you jump on trampolines and stuff like that,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told ESPN the next day.

When a freak injury fells an athlete, public shaming usually comes first. Journalists revise their lists of memorable off-field hazards, from former Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa’s sneeze (and sprained back) to two-time All-Star Kevin Mitchell’s attempt to eat a frozen donut that he microwaved for too long (chipped tooth, root canal).

All of this comes with an air of, “Isn’t it hilarious Chamberlain spent three days in the hospital?”

Let he who is without a freak injury, though, cast the first fastball.

I’ve tripped down stairs before. I’ve tripped up stairs, too. And, yes, I’ve injured myself at a children’s play place.

I must have been about 5 years old when I suffered a fate similar to Chamberlain’s

I don’t remember what indoor play place I went to, nor do I remember the reason for the celebration. I do, though, remember that the previous time I had been there, I’d gotten lost in the dark, serpentine polyurethane tunnels built into one of the walls, so I was on edge upon arrival.

My afternoon ended abruptly when I jumped into the ball pit — the surprisingly shallow ball pit. I hit my knee on the pit’s floor, which, in the mid-1990s, apparently, contained more loose screws and serrated edges than it does today.

I gashed open my right knee.

Everyone suffers so-called “freak” injuries. But outside the sports world, they’re just injuries. Athletes are the only ones privileged enough to tear a hamstring trying to chase down a 80-yard touchdown pass or to separate a shoulder while wrestling a bear into unconsciousness — which I sometimes claim is why I have a faded scar on my knee cap.

Chamberlain received some grief from fans and journalists because he already resided on the disabled list. He had elbow ligament replacement surgery last June 16, and he was expected to return this summer. Now the 26-year-old is dangerously close to receiving the “injury-prone” tag.

The Yankees had to announce publicly that they weren’t considering releasing him. Odds are he won’t pitch this season, although Cashman told CBS Sports it would be possible “if everything goes right.”

Outside of sports, two injuries don’t mean a person “can’t stay healthy.” That’s just how it is. I wish I were lucky enough to have only the ball pit incident in my past. But there’s more.

The next time you’re in a high school, check out the interior side of a locker door. The combination lock built into the door protrudes from the thin metal. The rusted-still screws don’t budge, although they are a bit jagged. The clasp that locks the door also juts out.

We shared lockers in high school. One person used the top half, another used the bottom. Junior year, I had the bottom half. One morning, I crouched down to gather some books, and the weight of the door swung it back close to me without my notice. When I stood, I bonked my head against something built into the door — a screw, the clasp, the inner workings of the lock — and cut my scalp.

I have a bump and, presumably, a scar on the right side of my scalp, although my hair hides it. I’ll know what’s there when my hairline recedes.

There are plenty of “stupid” injuries of which to tell (the time I gave myself a black eye on a slide, the time I broke my nose in middle school gym class), but one stands out for its similarity to A.J. Burnett’s infamous bunt this spring training.

Burnett, acquired this spring by the Pittsburgh Pirates, joined the likes of Chamberlain, Sosa and Mitchell when he bunted a baseball into his face earlier this month. He hopes to return from his fractured orbital bone before late April.

When I was about 14, I played pick-up roller hockey with friends most weekends. One game, I crashed the net to attempt a deflection — and tipped the ball right into my face. Nothing bruised or broke, as a 14-year-old’s wrist shot has the strength of wet toilet paper, but mark this down as another “dumb” moment.

Except no injury is dumb, especially ones that athletes like Chamberlain and Burnett suffer on or off the field. They’re just people, and people injure themselves in the strangest ways — or so I convince myself.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to trip on a banana.