It’s the top of the eighth. The game is tied 7-7. One out. Runners on first and second. Full count. The conference championship is on the line.
As Trey Truitt laid the bat on his shoulder, he stared at the pitcher thinking, “If the ball was coming to hit me, I had to turn and take it.”
“I ended up turning, and the ball just kept rising,” Truitt said. “I thought it was going to hit me in the upper part of my back.”
“It ended up hitting me right up in my helmet, straight off my head, knocking my helmet off,” Truitt said.
The outfielder fell to the dirt. Truitt said he remembers turning to go down first base, but he didn’t. Trainers and coaches ran to his aid.
“It was like someone just sucked the life out of me,” Truitt said.
That was 23 months ago. Truitt may not remember much about the incident now, but he sure remembers the ramifications of it.
The blow gave Truitt a concussion, a severe one according to head coach Craig Gibson. That one pitch—where Truitt was putting his body out there for the team—would affect him for an entire year.
But Truitt had no idea why.
As a sophomore, Truitt was second on the team with a .335 average and 17 home runs, behind only Kyle Lewis, the 11th overall selection in the MLB draft. Last year, Truitt was ninth on the team with a .263 average and hit only six home runs.
“In 25 years of coaching, I’ve never had a guy go from having a great two years to falling off the map like he did,” Gibson said. “(Truitt) was one of the best players in the country. He could have easily been Player of the Year when (Lewis) was here, but we just happened to have (Lewis).”
After suffering the concussion, Truitt played summer ball in the Cape Cod League. He spent three or four days in Macon for rehab after returning home from the team’s conference tournament. Truitt told the doctors what they wanted to hear, and they let him go up to Massachusetts to play.
But looking back, Gibson and Truitt both said it wasn’t enough time. Gibson said the team was kind of out of the process once the season ended.
“He sort of did it on his own. Once the season was over, we did a postseason physical, and he just took it upon himself to get to summer ball,” Gibson said. “He really didn’t consult me or our people.”
Truitt said he was just being an athlete. He wanted to play. He was excited. The Cape Cod was the same league Lewis played in before being drafted. It’s one of the most respected summer baseball leagues.
“I wanted to get up there as early as possible,” Truitt said. “My headaches were gone. I wasn’t sensitive to light anymore, so I felt I was OK to go. (I) just told them what I thought they needed to hear and got up there, which was the wrong thing to do, but at the same time, I felt great.”
His play in Cape Cod wasn’t great. Gibson said Truitt led the league in strikeouts and probably had the worst performance of anyone in the league that summer.
That poor play transitioned to the fall.
“He goes off last fall and probably had the worst fall on our team,” Gibson said. “It just sort of snowballed … I just noticed he wasn’t the same guy. When he was catching fly balls, he would sort of miss a few. And he was really a plus defender. Even when we had Kyle Lewis, he defended as well or better than (Lewis) a lot of times.”
The tides didn’t turn in the spring. Truitt continued to struggle, swinging at pitches he never swung at in the past. The coaches worked with him and said nothing was wrong, fundamentally, with his swing.
Something simply wasn’t right.
And that was a tough pill to swallow for a highly-successful player who had hopes of being drafted high in the MLB draft.
“It was extremely difficult because of the amount of success I had the past two years before that. I was on track to do good things,” Truitt said. “Everyone has a craft they’ve perfected in life. Everyone has something they’re really good at. That’s just their thing. Baseball’s always been that for me. I felt like there was nothing I could do about it, because everything I had always resorted to for hitting always worked … that wasn’t working. It was like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.”
During the season, the mother of Carter Varga, Truitt’s roommate, told him his vision might be the issue.
Truitt said Renee Varga has a family friend who deals with athletes who have suffered concussions or brain injuries and their effect on the eyes. But since it was during the season, Truitt didn’t think much of it.
Ultimately, Renee Varga went to Coach Gibson. He approached Truitt after the season.
“I told him, moving forward I hope you get what you want in the draft, but if it doesn’t, or even if it does, I think we need to pursue this vision, because I think something’s not right,” Gibson said.
“I was like, ‘OK, we’ll give it a try,’” Truitt said.
Gibson and Truitt settled on Dr. David L. Cook in Marietta, where Truitt would spend two months in vision therapy. Gibson said Cook has worked with NFL players who have suffered concussions.
Truitt’s concussion was not the most severe Cook had seen, but it was pretty traumatic.
“(The doctor) was surprised he played,” Gibson said.
Truitt was diagnosed with a depth perception issue. To fix it, Truitt would do depth-in, depth-out vision training that revolved around baseball techniques.
He said his favorite activity was one where he would look at a white dot in the middle of a board while he was surrounded by lights. Randomly, a light would flash, and he would have to stay focused on the white dot and touch the light that flashed without looking.
“As he got into the therapy, the play got better,” Gibson said. “(He) had a great fall for us—probably one of the best falls we had. He looked like the guy prior to the concussion.”
Truitt said he feels 110 percent different this season, and the numbers are backing that up.
Through 35 games, Truitt is second on the team with a .410 average. He leads the team in runs scored (45), hits (55), home runs (10) and is second with 31 RBIs. In March, he was named SoCon player of the month
Gibson called him a totally “different guy,” so much so that “according to Trey, he can read the writing on the ball.”
“So when he strikes out, we say, ‘Man, you didn’t see the writing on that one,’” Gibson said.
But striking out is something Truitt hasn’t done as often this season. The renewed Truitt hits as the leadoff man for the Bears, a role Gibson said suits him well.
“He’s a guy who puts fear in the other team, and we need him to lead us to another championship,” Gibson said.