Youth hit by bat enjoys big day at PNG

When you bring kids to a baseball game, make sure they pay attention. Always.

Nothing can ruin a fun night out at the ballpark quicker than a laser beam foul ball or bat flying into the stands. When it hits a child, it’s incredibly scary.

One of those heart-stopping scenes played out during the Curve’s last homestand, on May 23, when 10-year-old Zach Konicky took the brunt of a flying bat right in the face. It broke the youngster’s nose, but thankfully, he sustained no other injuries.

“It hurt really bad,” said Zach, a 4th-grader at Conemaugh Valley Elementary School in Johnstown. “When it hit me, I blacked out for a second, and my dad pulled me up. It was scary.”

Imagine how scary it was for his parents.

“It was horrific,” said Zach’s dad, Jeff, who was sitting with his son behind the first base dugout. “His glasses were laying in pieces there, and I just grabbed him and tried to get him looking at me and calmed down.”

At least Jeff Konicky could tell right away his son was OK. Zach’s mom, Wendy, had to deal with gutwrenching uncertainty a little longer. She and the other parents of the Little League team on hand were sitting in the upper deck when the Curve’s Gift Ngoepe lost control of his bat.

“We were just sitting there, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, someone got hit with the bat,'” Wendy Konicky recalled. “So of course all the moms are at the banister, and then I’m like, ‘Ohhhhh, it’s Zach!’ I just came running down, and by then Jeff had him pretty calm, and the EMTs were looking at him.

“I didn’t know how bad it was until I got all the way down. Those couple seconds, it seemed like it took me forever to get down there.”

Zach said he never had a chance to react quickly enough to avoid getting hit. A friend had just jumped onto the dugout and Zach asked him what he was doing right when Ngoepe swung the bat from the left side of the plate.

A split second later, the bat hit Zach in the face.

“It was too fast,” Zach said.

That’s how it goes. Too fast. Whether you’re paying attention or not, there’s so little time to react in that situation. Still, any fans who sit directly behind the dugouts must be keenly aware that they are in the most dangerous spot in the ballpark, and that’s especially true for kids.

Jeff Konicky said he learned that lesson.

“Pay attention. Pay closer attention,” he said.

Luckily Zach’s story has a cool, happy ending.

The little boy – looking no worse for wear – returned to Peoples Natural Gas Field on Tuesday to serve as honorary team captain for the Curve. He got to meet Ngoepe before the game and received a signed bat, to go along with the bat he got to keep when it hit him in the stands (the hitter usually gets that back, but Zach was allowed to keep it).

Ngoepe wrote a message to Zach on the bat he gave him Tuesday that read, “Stay strong kid,” and he also drew a smiley face on it.

“He was happy that I was OK, and he said that he felt really, really bad about it,” Zach said of Ngoepe. “Then I got some pictures with him, and then I got a picture with the whole team.”

Ngoepe is just glad Zach turned out OK after the scary incident and enjoyed spending time with the youngster Tuesday.

“It’s good that I could make a positive influence on him,” Ngoepe said. “We got to speak for a little bit today, and he got to hang out. It’s just something for me to say, hey, I didn’t do it on purpose. I said to him, ‘I’m sorry,’ and he forgave me.”

To top it off, Zach got to bring out the Curve lineup card to home plate and met with the umpires before Tuesday’s regularly scheduled game.

“That was really, really cool,” Zach said.

Zach and his parents had a little laugh at the beginning of the evening as the Curve and Reading completed a suspended game. Ngoepe came up to the plate, swung and lost his bat, and it went flying all the way to the grass in fair territory to right field.

“We almost saw it happen again tonight. Same guy,” Jeff Konicky said with a laugh. “We were just joking to him saying, ‘Gift’s up to bat, you better watch out.’ And then the bat went flying again.”

Those kinds of things happen at a baseball game, and it’s up to every fan – young or old – to pay attention and give yourself the best chance possible to avoid injury if the ball or bat is heading your way.

Zach Konicky was lucky. He only broke his nose, but he still came out smelling like a rose because of the treatment he received Tuesday.

“This is the best day of my life,” Zach said.

Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger.