Accident didn't rob Salazar of passion for game
Braves Minor League coach lost eye during Spring Training 2011
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Luis Salazar appreciates the tremendous amount of support he has received since being involved in a near-fatal incident that cost him his left eye during Spring Training last year. But as he prepares for his second season as a Braves Minor League manager, it is obvious that he still does not want any sympathy or special treatment.
"I don't have any bad memories," Salazar said. "Everything feels fine. It's nice to be back here again."
There are many people who might have been reluctant to return to the Braves Spring Training complex had they been subjected to the same traumatic experience that altered Salazar's life on March 9, 2011.
As Salazar remained unconscious for 14 minutes before being airlifted to an area hospital, all in attendance had reason to fear they had witnessed a fatality. Those fears were erased a short time later, and by the time the game ended that afternoon, the Braves were relieved to learn he had not suffered any brain damage.
"It was awful," Chipper Jones said that day. "A ball hit that hard at that short of a distance could certainly kill somebody. I'm so glad to hear he's conscious and breathing on his own."
Doctors were not able to save Salazar's left eye. But those who have since had the pleasure of being around him have been thrilled to see this unfortunate incident did not destroy his fighting spirit or passion for the game of baseball.
"I went to visit him a few weeks after it happened and he was talking about baseball," Braves left fielder Martin Prado said. "He had that eye covered and he was talking about baseball. I went there to talk about it and the only thing he wanted to talk about was baseball."
When Salazar returned to Braves camp earlier this month, he hurried to find McCann and some of the other big league players to whom he had been introduced last year.
"I saw [McCann] in the bullpen and we were just happy to see each other," Salazar said. "You're always thinking about what happened, but I told him, 'Don't worry about it, that's in the past.'"
McCann was devastated during the hours that followed the incident and spent much of the next week visiting Salazar and his family. Through these visits the two formed a strong bond and the All-Star catcher gained some peace of mind that he credits to the positive attitude Salazar has displayed since the incident.
"The way he handled the situation let me know I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time," McCann said. "The way he and his family handled the situation put me and my wife at ease. It could have been a lot worse."
After receiving regular visits from Dr. Joe Chandler, John Schuerholz and many other members of the Braves organization, Salazar returned to Braves camp two weeks after the unfortunate incident. A short time later, he began handling many of his normal responsibilities as Class A Advanced Lynchburg's manager.
"He's a strong man, physically and mentally," Prado said.
Five weeks after nearly losing his life, Salazar joined his Lynchburg team for its April 16 home opener against Myrtle Beach. He wore a patch over his eye and told his players to not allow his situation to be a distraction.
"He handled it about as well as anybody could," Braves outfield prospect Todd Cunningham said. "It was really cool to be a part of. It was something where someone displays courage. That's kind of a tough situation. But it was a special thing to be a part of."
Salazar received a temporary prosthetic eye in June, then a permanent one in August. But throughout the season, he made every effort to deflect focus away from his situation. He threw countless hours of batting practice, hit extra grounders to the infielders and coached third base.
"He was focused on different things," Braves shortstop prospect Andrelton Simmons said. "We didn't even know for the most part because he goes around like things are normal. That was good. I really admired that."
When Salazar was added to Atlanta's Major League coaching staff for two weeks in September, he deflected questions directed at his condition and redirected the focus to Simmons, who had won the Carolina League batting title, and Joey Terdoslavich, who had set a Carolina League record with 52 doubles.
While so many have continued to express concern about him, Salazar has continued to indicate his primary concerns center around his players.
"You've got to be with him to see how he is," Simmons said. "He's a great character to be around. He just keeps you focused. He's a great coach."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.