Accident prompts Price to return to field

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 26, 2002

Sports Editor

As a pitcher for the Pike County Bulldogs, Dee Price is the player you just can’t help but like.

His roots are in the country and hard work, probably things he learned from his father and grandfather. Take a visit to a Pike County baseball game and both are there, sitting comfortably in folding chairs and eating boiled peanuts while passing Dee cold soda over the dugout fence between innings. They did the same with Dee’s older brother Robby.

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One day at a Pike County ball game, Anita Walker, Dee’s mother handed his grandfather a black and white picture of Dee and Robby as little boys behind home plate.

"Those are two sports right there," said their grandfather.

It’s something those two grown men seem to love. Something every grandparent or parent hopes to witness – one of their babies playing baseball.

But listen to this:

Dee Price almost broke their hearts.

It wasn’t intentional and not done in malice or spite. It was an afterthought, really. One of those things that just suddenly appears in a young person’s head and then he just decides to go ahead and do it.

Dee wasn’t going to play baseball anymore.

He was giving it up. He had become tired of head coach Fred Holland’s endless lectures out on left field after a loss and decided it all was just too much to put up with. When Holland collected the team together for a yearly physical, Dee didn’t show up.

"He saw me later and asked me why," says Dee. "I told him I didn’t plan on playing."

But last summer, after a tractor severed his pitching arm to the bone, when Dee stepped into the ambulance, blood coating his white T-shirt and soaking through the emergency wrap placed on his arm by the paramedics, playing baseball was the only thing on his mind.

"When I got in that ambulance, I just asked her (the paramedic) if she knew if I’d be able to play baseball next year or not. She told me she didn’t know," Dee says. Dee had been helping pull up fence posts. A sweaty job. The kind where minds begin to wander and water breaks are frequent because of the summer heat. Dee’s job was to wrap a chain around the post and let the tractor do the work.

In one of those accidents where no one’s really at fault, Dee’s forearm just got caught in the middle of things.

"As soon as it happened I snatched my arm away. They told me if I hadn’t done that it would have cut it off," he says. "I put my hand on it and knelt down. Then I saw the blood. I really couldn’t believe it had happened. In the back of my mind, I was like, ‘this ain’t happening.’"

The cut was clean, diagonal and deep. Muscle, tendons and nerves gave way beneath the steel hay forks of the tractor. Although the bone wasn’t broken, it was notched and, according to Bobby Price, Dee’s father, that’s what worried the doctors. Dee was taken to Edge Regional Medical Center first but then transported to Dothan for surgery the night of the accident.

"They were worried he might get infection in the bones because the metal edges had cut it," says Price. "But the thing is, he never did pass out. He was calm, cool and collected the whole time, but he was weak. He had lost a lot of blood. They said the tractor was full of it."

The only tendon left intact was the one going to Dee’s index finger. The doctors repaired the damage that night. Then followed numerous trips back to Dothan for rehabilitation to his arm and hand and the removal of built-up scar tissue. It was eight weeks before Dee was able to bend his fingers and the rehab lasted six months.

"It was physical," Dee recalls. "A lot of pain. They would take an ace bandage and wrap it around my hand and bend it themselves. Eventually, it got easier."

And eventually, Dee Price picked up a baseball again.

"I had a little net that I throw the ball into and that’s all I did. I was just concentrating on getting my wrist rotation down," he says.

Holland came around as well. That’s what really did it for Dee. The coach who desires perfection in all of his players and seems to spend most of his time pointing out the plays they didn’t make rather then the ones they did, kept coming by to check on his recovering pitcher.

"Coach (Holland), you know, he’s a little rough on us and I was thinking he wouldn’t care," says Dee. "But he had come by my house several times after the surgery and I just happened not to be there because I was going to rehab."

Holland and Dee finally met up with each other at Wendy’s one Sunday after church. After they had talked, Dee decided to rejoin the team.

"That’s what made up my mind to play," he says. "Because if I had lost my arm, I wouldn’t have been able to play. That’s why I came out."

He’s had to adjust how he holds the ball on the mound and he’s throwing his curve different, but Dee feels he’s actually a better pitcher this season, regardless of the what happened to his arm.

"I think I throw harder," he says. "Last year I was benching 190 and this year I’m benching 205. It’s like I had something to work for. I’m stronger and my accuracy is a lot better."

Holland agrees.

"Dee came out after the injury really wanting to work, with the attitude that he wanted to be productive as a player," he says. "He’s still progressing, but I think he’s better in his all-around game. Not just pitching and hitting. He wanted to do it all. Even though he makes some errors sometimes, he’s a hard worker."

The first game he pitched was the hardest. It was cold. That’s the only time Bobby Price’s voice breaks a little when he relates the story about his son’s accident – right when he reaches the part about Dee taking the mound for the first time. It was the bottom of the sixth.

"He said ‘Daddy, I can’t even tell if I have hold of the ball right. I can’t feel it," says Price. That night in February Bobby Price was having to watch his son struggle with something that once came so natural.

"I figured his pitching days was over," says Price, recalling the doctor’s first diagnosis of Dee’s injury.

A pale, white scar runs from the inside to the top of Dee’s right arm. It’s the only reminder of the May afternoon when Dee learned what the game of baseball really meant to him. His fastball is working. So is his curve.

"Some days he’s on, some days he’s off. But that’s all pitchers. Pro ball’s the same way," says Price. He’s moved on and so has Dee.

"He’s young," says Price watching his son run laps around the Pike County baseball field following a game. "It’s easier to bounce back from something like that when you’re young."