ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Alex Cobb walked in a corridor at Tropicana Field, a moment he had anticipated for eight days. His return back with Tampa Bay Rays teammates was something he had considered since he was released from nearby Bayfront Medical Center on June 16 after sustaining a mild concussion. Work remains to pitch again, but this was a step forward.
Some memories remain blurry for the right-hander. He remembers what pitch he decided to throw on that Saturday evening (he had a curveball grip but eventually tossed a fastball). He remembers catching a glimpse of the ball off the bat of Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer streaking toward him. He remembers lying on Tropicana Field’s mound, the roof spinning, before the headaches began.
On Monday, Cobb spoke for the first time publicly since Hosmer’s 102.4-mph line drive struck him on the right ear June 15. He was placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list the next day, and a timetable for his return remains unknown.
“I’m having my days,” Cobb said. “Today has been the best day by far. The headaches after the fact, the first few days, were pretty tough to handle. The vertigo feeling . . . was leading to some nausea. But today has been the best day.”
That message was positive to hear. He was wheeled away in a stretcher, to a standing ovation by many, the last time he was seen at Tropicana Field. At first, he did not think the injury was serious. But later that day, he caught a replay of the incident and saw a gruesome sight that worried many: Him falling to the edge of the mound, both hands on his head, his legs kicking in pain.
He stayed conscious the entire time. Still, there was worry. The fear factor was real. It could stay with him.
“I don’t think that’s something we can say until we actually go through it,” Cobb said. “I’d love to sit up there and tell you ‘No,’ that once I get out there, I’ll have the mind-set that it happened once, it’s probably a pretty good possibility it’s not going to happen to me again. … I’ve had some nightmares about it, how bad it could have been. Obviously, it has been in the back of my mind.”
Despite that sensation, Cobb continues to feel day-to-day improvement. Still, there are moments that provide pause: Times when he looks away too quickly or tries to lay down to sleep, those remind him that he is dealing with a serious condition. He knows he must listen to his body. He must trust his recovery.
“When he goes out and plays, I think he’s going to be fine,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He might have those different moments where he might in a quiet time think about what had happened. But if I had to bet money, I’m going to say he’s going to go back out there, and he’s going to pitch like he always has pitched and not really think about it in the moment.”
Cobb visited a physician Monday and was told he has healed quicker than expected. He was told he could expect to see major improvements in the next week. There is no bruise on the affected ear, and it is not too sensitive to touch.
Still, fluid build-up near the eardrum has led to the occasional vertigo feeling. He said the only time he felt scared was when he rode in the ambulance during the short trip to the hospital, when thoughts turned to former Class A teammate and left-hander Darin Downs, who sustained a fractured skull in 2009 when a line drive struck him in a Double-A game.
“The chances of what happened to me happening are very slim,” said Cobb, who had plans to stay for the game Monday between the Rays and Toronto Blue Jays. “But it happened, and I made it out OK. The fact that I shouldn’t have to go through this again, the odds are in my favor. It makes it a little bit easier.”
The support Cobb received was strong. Multiple current and former teammates, such as the Kansas City Royals’ James Shields and Elliot Johnson, visited him in the hospital. His father, Rick, and girlfriend, Kelly, also were by his side.
Cobb has also received numerous supportive phone calls and text messages from friends and family, as well as from concerned Rays members. He shared a story of a recent 15-minute phone conversation with his aunt in which he missed about eight phone calls in the process.
“No, they haven’t left me alone,” Cobb said to laughs. “There has been a great amount of people keeping in touch with me.”
“It’s great to have him back, smiling, being Alex,” Rays reliever Cesar Ramos said. “It’s good that he’s feeling better, especially with the headaches.”
Added Rays left-hander David Price: “Today, you could just see it in the way he was walking. You could see it in his face that he definitely felt better than what he has felt, so it’s good.”
Cobb was back among teammates, back in a place that makes him comfortable. Work remains to return to the mound for good. But his appearance Monday was a positive start.