As 15-year-old Brent Donlan stepped into the on- deck circle, his life was about to be shattered. It was June 6, 2012, in a summer league game between Woodinville and FM Sports. Batting fifth in the order, Donlan took a couple of easy practice swings, standing in direct view of home plate. Then he glanced away for just a moment — and that’s when it happened.
"As my teammate hit the ball, I turned and saw the ball like three inches from my face," Donlan said. "I fell down immediately. I was kind of shocked. My coach (Aaron Tennis) ran up and was just cupping pools of blood with his hands. He was really supportive, but he was unsure what to do."
Shrieks of horror rang out from the crowd, as one of the coaches herded players from both teams into the outfield to shield them from view. Donlan’s first inclination was to get up.
"Coach, can I walk this off?"
"I don’t think you’re going to be walking this off," Tennis said.
Donlan’s parents, Dan and Stacey, helped him to their vehicle as he babbled incoherently. "Brent’s face was a mess," Dan Donlan said. "His eye was swollen about four inches and it was multiple shades of black, blue, red and purple. It was so swollen that he couldn’t see out of the other eye either. You could even see the imprint of the laces on his face where the ball hit him on his cheek."
Weaving through traffic at 85 MPH, the Donlans reached Evergreen Hospital. Brent vomited eight times, mostly blood. He stayed overnight, with nurses waking him hourly to gauge his eye pressure.The next day, doctors officially diagnosed him with a fractured orbital socket of the right eye.
Three weeks later he had surgery. "I was just going with the flow," Brent recalled. "I was staying positive. I was really confident with my doctor. He knew exactly what to do, fixed me right up."
But even the doctor’s supreme skill couldn’t restrain Donlan from plunging into deep depression following the surgery.
"I was thinking that I wouldn’t be able to play sports again," Donlan said. "Just knowing that all my teammates were playing baseball. And all my football guys were telling me how much fun they were having in camps, so I was sad that I couldn’t be out there."
People rallied in support. "My classmates made me a big card with a bunch of signatures," he said. "So that brought my spirits back up. My coaches brought me some audio books because I couldn’t see anything."
Woodinville athletic director and head manager Terry Agnew told Brent that a spot was reserved for him on the 2013 summer team.
"That helped reassure me a lot," Brent said.
Six weeks later, doctors cleared Donlan to exercise. He’d dropped from 159 pounds to 140. He began working with weights and then with a trainer.
After playing with Woodinville’s JV squad this spring, Donlan rejoined the summer club. "I wasn’t worried at all," he said. "I just thought lightning doesn’t strike twice and it won’t happen again. My mother was nervous, but I was fine."
Donlan’s parents have raised awareness about changing the rules so batters waiting on deck always stand behind the batter. This runs counter to tradition. "As you can probably imagine, we have become believers in the need for a change," Dan Donlan said.
Now 16 and heading into his junior year, Brent has healed.
His right eye is lower than his left, but it’s barely noticeable.
Glaucoma is a possibility as he ages. But for now, it’s full steam ahead (he hit .413 this summer).
"I struggled at first, but then began hitting," he said.
"I faced a lefty who threw around 90 MPH," he said. "We had never seen a pitcher like that. Davis Baillie was on third. I fell behind 0 and 2. I got a fastball, and hit a sharp grounder between first and second and drove in a run.
"I knew I was back," he said.