MIAMI — Since last Friday, the Miami Marlins have hung slugger Giancarlo Stanton’s jersey in their dugout. Even in his absence, the two-time All-Star’s presence could be felt.
A week after being struck in the face by Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Mike Fiers’ 88 mph fastball, Stanton visited his teammates for the first time prior to Thursday night’s game against the Washington Nationals at Marlins Park.
Upon getting hit, Stanton was rushed to a local hospital in an ambulance. Following overnight observation and work, he flew back to Miami on a private jet with his father for further evaluation. The past week — full of tests and well-wishes — has been a whirlwind.
"The support from the team has been unbelievable," Stanton said. "Take away even if I didn’t say a word to any of them — which I did — I still would’ve been fine seeing the support by what they said and reactions after. Just seeing them today — it’s definitely different because you see a face of happiness to see someone and you see the difference more of a relief you’re so happy to see someone. You go from the pain and happiness all at once."
Stanton, who still has dental work to be done for five compromised teeth, sported less swelling Thursday as he spoke to media in street clothes. He has a scar on the corner of his left upper lip. The stitches for a facial laceration are gone, but light bruising remains under his eyes.
The 24-year-old will continue to undergo CAT scans and further evaluation to determine when he can fly again. The facial fractures, one being on the bridge of his nose, will take six to eight weeks to fully heal.
Still, after seeing video of the play, Stanton knows it could’ve been worse. He never felt his career was in jeopardy as soon as doctors told him there was no damage to his orbital bone.
"That’s another thing, I was really fortunate," Stanton said. "I could have my mouth wired shut right now, I could have a plate in my face. I’ll take a few missing teeth over all that. They said my face didn’t do exactly what it was supposed to do by taking that force, but what it did, helped me out. For being hit here and a fracture here and blood in my sinuses up here is a little unusual. But it’s better than a lot of other things."
Outpouring of support from teammates, fellow big leaguers and fans proved overwhelming. That’s why he decided to post the before and after images of his progress. … And because he thought it looked "cool."
Fiers texted Stanton to tell him sorry and that it wasn’t done on purpose. Braves right fielder Jason Heyward, who suffered a broken jaw on a pitch to the face in August 2013, reached out. The organization’s social media account trended #GetWellGiancarlo.
"He gave me some good words of wisdom just told me about the food, about the process of it and when I should be most uncomfortable and how to get better sleep," Stanton said of Heyward. "That was helpful."
To this day, Stanton has seen the video whenever it airs on TV but doesn’t know whether he could handle it in slow motion. A bit of the incident is hazy — from the sound to initial impact.
"I remember just his arm action and the ball, maybe halfway waking up, kinda feeling my mouth around and everyone around me," Stanton said. "I think I blacked out for a few seconds, and I woke up and remember checking my mouth with my tongue.
"My ears were ringing. I couldn’t hear nothing except the ring. Checking my mouth and just the blood, mouth full and having chunks of teeth feeling around."
The MVP candidate finished his 2014 campaign with a .288 average, 37 homers and 105 RBI. He played in all 145 of Miami’s games until the injury.
Until Wednesday’s announcement, Stanton hoped to return this season — at least for peace of mind. Should he not get at-bats in the instructional league by early October, Stanton will have to wait until spring training for a chance.
Over the offseason, Stanton anticipates going through his normal workout routine by December. When it does come time to step to the plate, he will be protecting his face much like Heyward does.
"I’ve wondered about that," Stanton said. "I think I’m in a great mental state actually for what’s gone on. Being back in the box and against competition I’m not quite sure. I think when we decide protection, I’ll have more reassurance wearing that. I don’t know. Especially having the time off, it could be whatever or it might take me a little bit. It’s the perfect time to get through spring training rather than going into the season (and saying), ‘It’s now or never.’ "