Editor's note: Warner Robins American will play Ohio in the Little League Softball World Series semifinals on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Bobby Killebrew crashed to the dirt.
A fouled-off softball had crushed his eye socket and knocked him loopy. The skull around his eye splintered.
Imagine a giant cannonball caving in the corner of a house.
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In an instant, the vision in his right eye went dark. His eye was swollen shut.
He had been scooping up stray balls at his daughter Ashley’s hitting practice. He was 15 or so feet to the right of the batter’s box when, crouched over, he heard the thwack of a 12-inch ball rocketing off a metal bat and peeked up.
The ball glanced off the lens of his sunglasses and drilled him in the forehead just above his eyebrow.
On impact, Ashley Killebrew recalls, “He was airborne and horizontal to the ground. We didn’t hear him scream or anything. He just laid there. He wasn’t dead, but it was very scary.”
The accident happened in early June 2009. Ashley’s travel-softball team of pre-teens was working out before a road trip to a tournament in Florida. It was a Sunday. Players were chatting, waiting their turns to swing.
Then ... a pitch.
And a coach’s cry: “Bobby!”
Moments later, Bobby Killebrew was being rushed to the hospital. Doctors worried he might have blood on his brain. They sliced him ear-to-ear across the top of his scalp. They rebuilt his eye socket.
“Rolled my face down completely,” he says now. “Fifty-two staples to put my head back together.”
Killebrew, 51, a manager at Anchor Glass and an assistant coach for this year’s Warner Robins American Little League softball all-stars, wasn’t sure he’d see his daughter play again.
Instead, he’s around for a return trip to the Little League Softball World Series this season, where Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. Ashley and her 11-, 12- and 13-year-old teammates play in a nationally televised semifinal game.
“I didn’t think I was gonna live,” he says. “It was a touch-and-go situation.”
He would spend a few days in the hospital.
“I couldn’t even recognize him,” Ashley recalls.
Later last summer at a life-science course she was taking, they dissected a cow’s eyeball. That freaked her out a little. Ashley, now 13 and an eighth-grader at Bonaire Middle School, wanted no part of some nasty cow eye. “I was not gonna dissect it,” she says. “I just wasn’t.”
Her mom says her dad’s impact-resistant sunglasses probably saved his eyesight.
“They said if he had turned his head an inch one way or the other it would’ve probably had a different and tragic ending,” Donna Killebrew says.
Doctors put a metal plate in his forehead and stitched him up. After a few days in the hospital, he was well enough to go home.
“And I got a face lift out of it,” he jokes.
Two months after that, Ashley and her fellow Little League all-stars played themselves into the World Series. Proud dad Bobby Killebrew was in the stands the August afternoon they won it.
Parents rushed the field to celebrate with their daughters. A little later, all 10 teams in the tournament gathered in the outfield for a group photo.
“I was walking around down there on the field. I was still in shock that we won,” Bobby Killebrew says. “I was standing on home plate and looking around.”
Then up walked Ashley.
“She just grabbed me and started hugging me,” her father recalls. “I was like, ‘Baby, you need to go out there and get your picture made.’ She said, ‘Daddy, I could care less about that picture.’ I said, ‘No, really, you do.’ She said, ‘Daddy, I’m just glad you’re here, that you’re alive, so you could see me win the World Series.’ ’’
Teammates hollered for her to hurry and get in their picture.
“I was like, ‘Hold on!’ ’’ Ashley says. “I wanted to be with my dad.”
They stood with one another for what seemed like 15 minutes.
“We were both crying. ... I mean, right now, every time I think about how it was her wanting to be with me right then. ... That’s my girl,” Bobby Killebrew says, choking up. “Every time I talk about it, man, I’m telling you, it just brings chill bumps to me. I’m just glad to be alive.”
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.