Happy to be alive

March 15, 2019

MICHIGAN CITY — Timing is everything in baseball.

From a pitcher working to keep a hitter off balance, to a hitter trying to barrel up the ball on the bat, to a shortstop making the throw to the second base just as he’s getting to the bag on a double play pivot, it’s an imperative element to success.

Timing also means a lot more to Casey Martin. In all likelihood, it’s the reason the Marquette Catholic coach is still alive.

“A gust of wind, a mile an hour faster or slower, being in the other lane,” Martin said. “I’m fortunate to be here at all.”

Martin was on his way to school on the morning of Aug 29. He was driving east on Route 12 approaching the intersection with Indiana 149. What happened next was a blur.

“I have no memory of slamming on the brakes, tightening up,” he said. “I don’t remember the contact. I woke up in the car and the EMTs were there. My first thought was, I can’t believe they got here so fast. In fact, I’m sure I was just unconscious for 15, 20 minutes.”

According to the police report, a semi turning left failed to stop at the stop sign on 12 and entered the path of Martin’s car, which he estimated was traveling at about 55 miles per hour. The impact crushed the passenger side and the image of the car on his phone is still difficult for Martin, who was wearing a seat belt, to process over six months later.

“Anybody in any other seat would’ve had no chance,” he said. “They would’ve been killed instantly. There was glass everywhere, blood. The windshield was kind of wrapped around me. I remember, I looked up and I could see the headlights of the truck. I was lucky enough to be sitting in the only pocket that wasn’t under the truck.”

As Martin recalled, he was asked if he could move his arms or legs, which he could. Paramedics helped him onto a stretcher, continuing to ask him questions assuring him that he was in good hands.

“I was starting to get nervous that I had internal injuries, but they were so good at their job, so positive,” he said. “It was all setting in that this had happened. They asked me where the pain was and I knew right away it was all the right side. I had shortness of breath, my shoulder. I had broken ribs in basketball so I was familiar with the feeling.”

After having his injuries initially addressed at Methodist Hospital in Gary, where his family met him, Martin was transported to Christ Advocate in Oak Lawn, Ill., the nearest Level 1 trauma center.

“I was assured that I was stable enough for the trip to Oak Lawn, where they are more equipped to handle trauma of this nature,” he said.

A lengthy list of injuries included a collapsed lung, five broken ribs, a fractured scapula and numerous cuts on his arms and face. The lung did not rebound as expected, prompting a 20-day hospital stay.

“They told me four, five days, it will pop back out, but it didn’t happen,” he said. “A nurse comes in Day 15 saying, how unusual it is to take this long. I was left wondering, how long am I going to be in the hospital eating rice and mashed potatoes every day? Finally, they took out the chest tube and it had stabilized, so I was released.”

The recovery has been particularly challenging for someone like the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Martin, a lifelong athlete who excelled in football, basketball and baseball at Chesterton, then played baseball at Notre Dame.

“I never had any issues with (football),” said Martin, who still plays in a men’s baseball league in Chesterton. “I’ve had broken bones before but I’d never been this hurt. That’s the part that was so frustrating. I’ve never needed this much help, this much therapy. It’s such a grind and continuous battle every day. It’s completely against everything I am. I still want to be competitive, I want to be athletic, but like one of the nurses in the hospital said, you’re not 18 anymore.”

Martin began physical therapy shortly after his discharge, but a lack of progress with the shoulder prompted him to have a follow-up done and an MRI showed a torn labrum among other issues to address in his right shoulder. He will have surgery to repair it Monday.

“It seemed to be going in the right direction, but I can tell my lung is not 100 percent,” he said. “My throwing mechanics, going back, coming down, there’s just nothing there anymore. I don’t know what they’ll find, but I’m almost relieved they found something. They’re optimistic they can go in and fix something, but after all the therapy, it’s back to square one, starting from scratch. Just knowing it’s something that will continue to nag at me, likely for the rest of my life, it’s been a real struggle, physically and mentally.”

Six weeks in a sling will follow, which will be especially tough for a hands-on coach like Martin, who throws batting practice and infield, and hits ground balls and fly balls.

“I wish I was better at delegating,” he said. “I demonstrate everything. It’s basically just me and my dad (Craig) and he just turned 70. (Assistant Athletic Director) Brad (Collignon) offered to help. It’s going to be a very interesting start to the spring. (Marquette grad) Liam Dietz may come back and help a little bit, but he’s in school (at PNW). We’ll have to get creative. I hate hitting off a machine. I think it’s going to have an effect on us going to live pitching, but we’ll have to hit the ground running.”

That said, the fourth-year coach knows he has to take a positive approach to the situation if he hopes his team is going to respond favorably.

“The kids all know about it,” he said. “It’s a game of adjustments and we’ll do our best with what we have. I trust they’ll step up and be able to handle the fact I’m not going to be as active as I usually am and hold each other accountable, doing drills on their own. There will be days, especially over spring break when I’ll have to just sit down. We’re a small school, the kids are used to adjusting, being flexible.”

Just a day or two before the accident, Martin had taken his class outside to the 10th Street intersection to explain the premise of social contracts as they apply to a stop sign.

Oh, the irony.

“It’s given me perspective,” he said. “I’ve had a great life and I’m eternally grateful for how lucky I am. It changes my outlook, that’s for sure.”

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