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It is every parent’s worst nightmare: their son sprawled out in a sea of his own blood, no one knowing for what seems like an eternity how a 94.5 mph fastball to the face would impact his career. Or life.
“I was sick to my stomach and I felt that I was gonna throw up,” said Kevin Pillar’s mother, Wendy.
“Probably the worst, what can I say, spectacle I’ve ever seen of someone bleeding that much,” said his father, Mike. “I watch a lot of UFC and boxing. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so much blood pouring out like that on anybody. I was kinda like, ‘Oh my God, I hope his whole face isn’t shattered.’ ”
The Kevin Pillar Story has had a happy ending, the Mets’ warrior persevering through his chilling scare on May 17 in Atlanta that required surgery to repair multiple nose fractures, and collecting a pair of singles in the Mets’ 7-6 victory over the Diamondbacks on a day when the bullpen stemmed the tide before Pete Alonso’s single drove in surging Francisco Lindor in the ninth inning.
Pillar’s older brother Michael had watched the incident live and immediately called his parents: “Kevin got hit.”
“And I’m like, ‘Oh OK,’ ” Wendy said. “I just assumed he got hit and he got on base. And then he said, ‘He got hit in the face.’ And then I’m like, ‘OK, OK, I gotta go.’ ”
The mother and father, who have worked for 42 years together at Mike Pillar & Sons Hardwood Flooring Inc. in Woodland Hills, Calif., tape the games, and they fast-forwarded to their son’s horrifying at-bat against Jacob Webb when they returned home.
Wendy Pillar feared that her son’s MLB dream might be over.
“It was scary,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that he didn’t get more damaged. But I think the initial hit with the pitch was worse than seeing the aftereffect. I could see his foot fluttering, you know? He’s pretty tough. He is one tough dude. I knew this was like, ‘Oh my God!’ You just saw so much blood on that poor face that it was hard.
“I thought this was the end of all.”
Kevin’s wife, Amanda, kept his parents in the loop.
“His wife Amanda was great,” Wendy said. “Two minutes after it happened, she called me and she was in complete contact with the doctor that was there, and Kevin happened to know the other doctor from the Braves. So Amanda reached out to him.”
At every opportunity, Kevin FaceTimed his parents.
“After he got to the hospital, while he was waiting to get the CT scan, he had FaceTimed us, and then he took that scan and then he called us back and told us everything was negative,” his mother said.
Said Mike Pillar: “He told us there was no brain damage or anything, or broken cheekbones or anything, it was just all nose. His nose was completely … crushed.”
The parents were somewhat relieved when they saw his face.
“He seemed a little more composed sitting,” Wendy said. “His nose was like crooked, and his eyes just started to swell.”
Pillar was activated off the injured list for the start of this road trip on Monday night and continued to be a source of inspiration to his manager and teammates when he singled in his first at-bat back.
Pillar’s courage and fearlessness goes way back. A generation, in fact.
“He grew up in a dirt bike-racing family,” his father said. “I raced professional motocross, and he also rode dirt bikes as well. Although he really didn’t pursue racing, but he did ride dirt bikes on motocross tracks. I was injured quite a bit — I broke my femur, I’ve torn my knee up four times, I’ve had three shoulder separations, broken clavicle, a fractured pelvis, and as soon as I was able to, I was back on the bike.”
Kevin learned his father’s sport the hard way.
“We were at this track,” Mike recalled, “and it was a track he hadn’t ridden before, and I said, ‘Make sure you go slow the first lap, learn the track, feel the jumps.’ So he gets out in the track, the first jump he goes over, he nails it, and he goes over the handlebars, he crashes big-time. He comes back to me on the motorcycle — he had braces at the time and they were hanging off his teeth, sticking straight out, and he was bleeding, and I ended up pulling his braces off with pliers, and stopped the bleeding, and he was fine the rest of the day.”
Kevin was a tailback, receiver, safety and linebacker in high school.
“I’ll never forget the very first game as a senior in high school,” Mike recalled. “They kicked off to him, and he should have called a fair catch, but he didn’t. He caught the ball and he got flattened! And the entire stadium, which was full, went silent for about 30 seconds til he got up. And then he played the rest of the game. He played defense, offense, both, he never came off the field.”
The father never had an inkling that the son dreamed of an MLB career. Kevin was drafted in the 32nd round out of Division II Cal State-Dominguez Hills by Toronto in 2011.
“That definitely put a big chip on his shoulders,” Mike said.
The chip never left.
“He’s my kid, but even if he wasn’t my kid, I just think he just goes out and lays it on the line every single day,” Wendy said.
Mother and father will be in San Diego when the Mets begin their four-game series there on Thursday night. Wendy Pillar has never missed a single day of work except for vacation. Of course she hasn’t. Kevin now wears a protective mask in the outfield and on the bases.
“Whatever’s gonna keep him safe,” she said.
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