A Small Bump in the Road

By: Media Services Intern Jorgan Staker

Mat Keplinger never knew what hit him—literally.

“I had no idea what happened,” the Nevada junior pitcher said.  “It wasn’t until a few hours later that my coach and trainer told me that I had been hit off a throw, otherwise, I would have had no clue.”

The “freak” accident, as Keplinger calls it, occurred on the first day of team practice.  Keplinger was pitching when a runner stole second base.  The catcher tried to throw the runner out.  Instead of reaching the desired destination of second base, the ball instead encountered a different object—Keplinger’s head. 

“This kind of thing never happens,” said Keplinger.  “It was a freak accident that no one expected.”

Keplinger said that after he was hit, he laid face-down on the ground for a while, but then got up and walked off the field on his own.  The trainer sent him down to the Health Center just as a precaution.  At the Health Center, the doctors ran a few basic tests to see if Keplinger had suffered a concussion.

“I was pretty sure that I had a concussion,” he said.  “I was really woozy, had a bad headache and had a really hard time doing basic eye tests, like following a finger.” 

With the conclusion that Keplinger had a fairly severe concussion, they sent him to a neurologist at St. Mary’s.  There he underwent a series of tests. 

“The neurologist’s initial diagnosis was that I had a fractured skull and wouldn’t be out too long, maybe a week,” said Keplinger.  “The only thing I would have to do would be to wear protective gear when I played.” 

With this positive diagnosis, the doctors decided to keep Keplinger overnight, completing additional cat scans to make sure things stayed constant.  With the next test though, they found that there was four to five times more internal bleeding in his brain than there had been just a few hours before. 

The doctors rushed Keplinger into surgery to complete a procedure called a craniotomy.  They waited only long enough for his parents to come up from Stockton before they began. 

The doctor cut a large chunk of Keplinger’s skull out in order to relieve the pressure and stop the bleeding.  They then replaced the bone with a metal plate and screws.  Keplinger was left with 30 staples and a Mohawk as proof of the surgery. 

“I was actually really calm about the whole thing,” Keplinger said.  “More for my mom who was freaking out but the doctor was comfortable about the surgery and said that it was safe, as crazy as it is to think that brain surgery can be safe!” 

During the whole ordeal, Keplinger said that baseball was not the first thing on his mind. 

“I wasn’t really thinking about baseball,” he said.  “I was just hoping that everything was going to be okay.”  

After the surgery though, Keplinger’s thoughts again turned back to the sport he loves.  An hour after the surgery he told his dad he would be ready to play in the opening game, which was just a mere three weeks away. 

“I told my dad that I would be ready for our first week against Santa Clara,” Keplinger said.

Keplinger did just as he predicted, taking a week off of school and training to rest from the surgery.  After that, he jumped right back into it, starting off with light training, such as riding the bike and pitching in practice.  He was ready to play within three weeks, coming in to pitch the first weekend against Santa Clara. 

The only thing that has changed is the small piece of plastic that he must now wear inside his baseball cap to protect his head.

“It feels good to be back and playing,” Keplinger said.  “I had worked so hard all fall and spring for the season that I knew I was going to come back.  The surgery and the accident were just a small bump in the road.”