NEW RIEGEL, Ohio - It is said that life can change in the blink of eye, and longtime New Riegel athletic director Steve Bouillon learned that first hand on May 1.
Bouillon, also a Blue Jackets assistant baseball coach for the past 10 years, had his right eye crushed by a line drive during team batting practice that afternoon, an injury that may have caused permanent blindness in the eye.
As is standard procedure, Bouillon was pitching from in front of the mound about 53 feet from home plate and behind an L-screen, a portable section of fencing designed to protect BP pitchers from batted balls.
The normal distance from the pitching rubber to home plate is 60 feet, six inches. The idea for BP is to deliver the pitch and then quickly duck behind the L-screen. On this day, Bouillon was not quick enough. A line drive struck by a Blue Jacket player made a direct hit to Bouillon's eye, causing several fractures around the orbital bone and, more importantly, cutting and collapsing the eye ball.
"The kid just hit the ball like he was supposed to, and I didn't catch it like I was supposed to," said Bouillon, who declined to reveal the player's name. "He felt terrible about it, but it wasn't his fault. I just didn't duck behind the screen quick enough. I've been hit before, but never like that in the head."
Head coach Dave Uitto, in his 27th and final season, was standing behind the backstop when Bouillon was hit.
"Dave said it sounded like someone caught a ball in their glove," said Bouillon, who did not lose consciousness but remembers only parts of the immediate aftermath. "I just know that I was panicking when I was laying on the field, and I was thrashing around quite a bit."
After being treated on the field, Bouillon, who said he was feeling the most intense pain of his life, was taken to Fostoria Memorial Hospital. He was subsequently transported to Toledo Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery for 3 1/2 hours. His eye was sewn back together and the original prognosis was not good.
He was told at the outset it looked like the damage, which included the destruction of the lens, would likely leave him blind in the eye. Subsequently, Bouillon was able to at least recognize bright light, which led to some optimism.
"The doctor said I have a chance," Bouillon said. "They're sounding a little more hopeful. I can't see out of it right now but, hopefully, after all the surgeries, I can get some of the vision back. It's going to take some time, and they can do some amazing things now with surgery.
"The worst-case scenario is I still have one good eye and people function with one eye. The best case would be that they get it back to the way it was. I'm hoping at least that it's somewhere in the middle where maybe I can see the big letter on the eye chart."
Bouillon has a second surgery scheduled Tuesday in Toledo. A retina specialist, Dr. Gregory Rosenthal, will attempt to clear the eye of excess blood, determine whether the optic nerve is still connected, and figure out what can be done in an attempt to restore Bouillon's vision.
Bouillon, 55, is a 1970 graduate of New Riegel who started in left field as a junior on the Blue Jackets' 1969 state championship team. He later served as a teacher and head baseball coach at Fostoria St. Wendelin before returning to his alma mater. He has been at New Riegel the past 28 years.
Bouillon said he has been overwhelmed by all the cards he has received offering kind words of support, and all the visitors who have stopped by his house.
The visitors he did not allow were the members of the baseball team, until two days ago.
"I wanted them to stay away for a while because [the injured eye] was pretty ugly," Bouillon said. "I didn't want them to see me like that."
A week after the injury Bouillon was considering what-ifs.
"If the ball was two inches over one way, nothing happens," he said. "Then again, maybe if it was two inches another way, it kills me."
Ironically, Bouillon was late to practice on May 1 because he had to fill in to drive an afternoon bus route for an absent driver. He had also considered making a blood donation at the school's blood drive that afternoon. But because he was already late and didn't want to miss the entire practice, he bypassed the blood drive.
"I ended up giving blood anyway," Bouillon joked.
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