David Collins was in the other nose bleed seats - not the ones high in the upper deck at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but the ones behind the dug-outs where foul balls on rare occasion have changed the complexion of a fan's face.
In the time it takes to holler "duck," a foul ball at an Orioles game last month rearranged the nose and work schedule of Collins, a reporter for WBAL-TV who, for a change of pace, became a story.
Collins was fortunate the ball off the bat of Oriole Nick Markakis didn't directly smack his schnozz at a July 29 game between the Orioles and Chicago White Sox. If you make your living on television (or even if you don't), a line drive to the face is alarming. But Collins looks good - except for a fading shiner under his left eye, which is an improvement over the baseball stitch marks. He's expected back at work Monday.
As is common in all ballparks, there's netting behind the home plate area but not behind the dugouts at Camden Yards. Warning signs about batted balls are posted throughout, as well as JumboTron messages from players also warning fans about batted balls and flying bats. The back of Oriole tickets carry Major League Baseball's disclaimer: "The holder assumes all risk and danger ... including the danger of being injured by: thrown or broken bats; thrown or batted balls."
The most common foul ball injuries, according to Roger Hayden, director of ballpark operations at Camden Yards, are to fans' hands. Rather than getting out of the way or catching it on the bounce, fans will try to glove a foul ball when they don't have a glove.
"My recommendation is not to bare hand it," Hayden says. As for what happened to Collins, "we don't have a lot of Dave Collins injuries. He took a nasty one."
To hear his cautionary tale, we caught up with Collins at empty Oriole Park last Friday. He had the idea to be interviewed in Section 50, Row G, Seat 5 - where he sat last month with his former WBAL colleague and buddy Virg Jacques, a reporter in Washington. Each year, they get together for an Orioles-White Sox game because Jacques is a White Sox fan.
Fourth inning. Left-handed batter Markakis is at the plate. Foul balls from left-handed batters can slice toward the third-base side quite possibly sailing over the visitors' dugout and toward, say, Section 50, Row G, Seat 5. We pick up the play-by-play:
Collins - 49, experienced reporter, handsome, friendly as heck - was off the clock. Didn't even have his cell phone on him. Sitting in the souvenir seats. Wearing his Orioles shirt, blue jeans, a bag of peanuts at his feet. He turns his head to talk to Jacques about his sons, Andy and Danny, getting autographs from The Bird mascot. Collins doesn't make it through his entire story. Jacques, wisely watching the batter, sees the foul ball and ducks.
"I heard a thump. I didn't know the thump was Dave's nose being broken."
Jacques looks at his slumped friend. "I touched his shoulder. No response."
Are you OK? Are you OK?
"I'm hearing voices," Collins says. "I feel like I'm in a deep sleep."
The game pauses. Players looking over his way. Doctors bounce out of the surrounding seats. Towels are tossed to Collins. Calm advice given to pack his nose.
"My face was just on fire," Collins says.
He runs his tongue across his teeth. All there. He realizes what has happened. No one had to tell him.
"I stand up - and that was it." The blood flowed.
"He starts rising up," Jacques says, "and it was like someone poured buckets of blood on him. His blue jeans were deep red."
Collins clutches his nose with a towel to try to stop the bleeding. Blood in his tear ducts, throat, ears. He couldn't see.
A woman a few seats down graciously hands him the bloody Rawlings baseball. Collins mumbles some joke about this being a tough way to get a souvenir.
Paramedics ask Collins whether he's OK to walk.
"Yes, let's do it," he tells them.
Collins walks up the stands with his baseball. It's a long walk. Stitch marks under his left eye. Throbbing head. But he's lucky, very lucky. Not a direct hit.
"As he was walking up the stairs, he raised the ball in his hand!" Jacques says. The crowd cheers.
"I thought they were cheering a play on the field," Collins says. He doesn't remember raising the ball in his hands. "I didn't hot dog it."
He went to Maryland Shock Trauma Center a few blocks away for treatment. No damage to his eyes. He did suffer a deviated septum. Four deep cuts are later discovered inside his nose. None of it pretty. His wife, Trish, prepped their kids on what to expect.
"It's not that bad, Daddy. It's not," 6-year-old Andy Collins told his father, who looked like Jack Nicholson's Jake character when he got his nose sliced open in Chinatown. "It's my first broken nose," Collins says. After 25 years on the job, this might have been his hardest knock.
The first few days after the beaning were ugly and painful; Collins sneezed last week and you would have thought a foul ball hit him again but in his own home. These were the days of not talking (jaw too sore), eating scrambled eggs (enough with the eggs), not bending over or lifting anything. But time has been kind to his injuries.
Surgery went well last week, Collins says. They stitched his left nostril back on. The nose was straightened, although his wife thinks it's a bit crooked. "As long as I can breathe," her husband says, "I don't care if it's straight anymore." He's got all sorts of story angles now about foul ball injuries; missing work has bugged him.
"This is a guy who never calls in sick for anything," says Trish Collins.
Collins hopes to get his baseball signed by Markakis. His surgeon, Dr. Domenick Coletti, already signed it. Virg Jacques presented his friend an inscribed case ("The Broken Nose") for the ball.
"This is just a momentary setback," Jacques says. "We'll be back next year when the White Sox come through again."
By the way, the White Sox beat the Orioles 13-11. Sounds as if fans enjoyed one heckuva game - except for the guy in Section 50 who suffered a painful fourth inning. What can baseball fans learn from Collins' brush with trauma? Keep your eyes on the batter if you're in the choice seats.
"When you're talking to someone at the game, don't look at them," says the Orioles' Hayden. "Just watch the game."