Lindsay Efflandt, like any pitcher, knows the risk.
Softball pitchers put a 12-inch yellow softball in their hand, deliver it to hitters wielding bats that get more powerful every year, and once that softball has left that pitcher’s hand, the most vulnerable person on the field is the pitcher.
Efflandt, Cary-Grove’s senior standout who is one of the best pitchers to ever take the circle in the Fox Valley Conference, literally saw her life flash before her eyes April 22 when Prairie Ridge’s Kirsten Stevens hit a line shot that nailed Efflandt flush in the left eye.
No, Efflandt was not wearing a face mask. She did have on sunglasses though, and at least one doctor has told her the glasses may have saved her life.
Whether or not Efflandt pitches for the Trojans again this season remains to be seen, but she is back to the game, wearing her No. 20 jersey and supporting her teammates.
The injuries Efflandt sustained are serious, but they could have been much worse. She has a broken orbital bone, as well as two other fractured bones in her face, but no surgery will be required — time will heal her wounds, and the day will come when the Yale-bound Efflandt will pitch again.
“I’m good,” she said Monday prior to the Trojans’ 2-1 loss to Crystal Lake South. “It doesn’t hurt. I’m feeling normal other than the swelling and the weirdness but it doesn’t hurt so that’s great.”
There is still some swelling evident, and her eye looks like she just finished going 10 rounds in a boxing ring, but having witnessed the incident I can say that I didn’t expect her to look as good as she did on Monday.
Efflandt’s account of what happened is somewhat sketchy, and understandably so.
“(The pitch) was not a strike,” she said. “It was about three inches off the plate and Kirsten, with her long arms, was able to stick her bat out and get it. I saw yellow and it hit me. I don’t remember falling, I just remember laying on the ground. I was awake but I couldn’t move. I think my body was in shock. I asked for my mom first thing and then I heard my dad. They were already out there. Then I felt it swell but I really don’t remember that much. It was scary and I’m glad to be alive.
“I’ve been hit before but mostly in the legs, and not that hard. I’ve had balls hit at my head before but I’ve been able to get out of the way. I didn’t even see this one.”
Trojans’ senior Sarah Leudo, who has been Efflandt’s catcher for about 99 percent of the games the two have played together in high school, was playing third base that day.
“I couldn’t think,” Leudo said of the moment the ball hit Efflandt. “My jaw just dropped. At first you think, ‘It’s Lindsay. She’s invincible. She’ll get up and be fine. But I knew that was just a defense mechanism. I knew something really bad had happened.”
If something this traumatic had to happen, Efflandt, in retrospect, is glad it was her good friend and summer teammate — Stevens — who hit the ball, and who spent much of that night at the hospital with her friend. The color of the uniform means little when it comes to true friendship.
“I was talking to her about that,” Efflandt said. “At least it was someone who is one of my great friends and someone I have great respect for.”
And now comes the issue that has been debated for years, and will be for years to come — the Great Facemask Debate.
Start with this thought. Efflandt, a straight-A student, said she has calculated that it took that softball approximately .2 seconds from bat to face. Not 2 seconds — point two, as in 0.2.
“I should have been wearing a face mask,” Efflandt said without hesitation. “This changes how I feel about them. I wasn’t for or against them before, I just didn’t want to wear one. I know there are college coaches out there who don’t like them but it’s the smart thing to do and I think it should be mandated.”
In my own interactions with college softball coaches I’ve heard more than one say they think a player, pitcher or otherwise, wearing a face mask is a sign of weakness.
“When something like that happens it’s not a sign of weakness,” Efflandt said. “Nobody could react to something like that.”
As a summer softball coach, I’ve also taken Efflandt’s approach to the mask issue over the years — wear it if you want, don’t wear it, I don’t really care. What I saw on April 22 at Cary-Grove is something I hope I never see again, and I too have changed my thinking about the mask issue.
Scott Massie was umpiring home plate that day. His daughter, Hailee, is a sophomore standout pitcher for Crystal Lake South. The sun hadn’t set yet that night when the Massies went out and bought a mask for Hailee, who didn’t wear one prior to that either.
Seeing what we saw that day changes one’s mind pretty quickly about the value of the mask.
Efflandt, like most pitchers, never heads to the circle in fear of something like this happening. So will she now be apprehensive when that time comes to pitch again?
“I don’t think so. I’ve been pitching nine years and something like this never happened,” she said. “With a mask on I think I’ll be fine. You really don’t think it’s going to happen to you. This has definitely been eye-opening.”
And don’t for a minute tell Efflandt she was lucky to not have been hurt worse. She has a strong belief in why she wasn’t more seriously injured.
“I think God’s angels were watching over me,” she said. “I don’t think it was luck. I think it was God. That’s my faith. So many things could have been worse. People say so you’re out for awhile? I just say I’m alive, though.”
There is no timetable on Efflandt’s possible return. There is still swelling and there are many doctor appointments ahead, although not having to undergo surgery is definitely a good thing. But her eye doctor has told her that if she gets bumped or nicked, the eye could be at risk for a retinal tear.
“We’re taking it one day at a time,” Efflandt said.
As this experience should teach us all to.
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