At first, minor league catcher Brian Jeroloman tried to hide his lingering symptoms from his family and friends. Months after he was knocked out of a playoff game with a concussion and a gash on his neck after a brutal collision at home plate, Jeroloman didn’t want the people who cared for him to continue worrying after his health. He felt fine after his four-day hospital stay following the collision in September, but the intermittent headaches and neck pain continued.
“I didn’t want anyone to feel bad for me,” said Jeroloman, who was playing for Class AA Harrisburg when he was injured. “It’s stupid, but I didn’t want anyone to worry about me.”
Finally, Jeroloman, 28, found some help. The Gainesville, Fla., resident told the Nationals of his on-and-off-again pain. But the source remained undiagnosed until just before spring training, when a doctor at the University of Florida found the spot that triggered Jeroloman’s discomfort. A spinal cord expert numbed a nerve in the back of his neck. To test the results of the procedure, Jeroloman went to the batting cages to hit for six hours.
“I overdid it because I was looking for symptoms,” he said. “And I called [the surgeon] back and said, ‘We’re good to go.’ Two days later they did the operation.”
The nerve was completely killed in the second procedure, a week before spring training began. While Jeroloman was limited in big league camp to bullpen sessions and rehab and wasn’t cleared to rejoin Harrisburg until a week ago, he was overjoyed his symptoms had disappeared.
“It was an amazing feeling,” he said. “I can’t describe what kind of relief that is. It was the week before spring training, so I was panicking. I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to go out there or do that much.”
Jeroloman, who was re-signed to a minor league deal this offseason, is happy to be back in a routine and on the field. His first game with Harrisburg this season was April 25. He homered May 1 and 2. He had told injured Nationals starter Doug Fister his story when both were in Viera, Fla., for extended spring training, and he was behind the plate for Fister’s final rehab start Friday in Reading, Pa.
“Hats off to him,” Fister said. “I have not seen that video [of the collision]. I’m hesitant to watch something like that. I don’t like seeing guys get hurt. He’s come back and [is] playing strong and beating things mentally. That’s a positive.”
“To see what he went through and talking to him in spring training quite a bit, it’s good to see him on the field,” Harrisburg Manager Brian Daubach added. “Even though in spring training he was limited, to finally get back here, he’s hit a couple homers. We’re just glad to have him back. He’s a veteran guy back there and really controls the staff.”
The video is gruesome. With the score tied in the seventh inning of Game 1 of the Eastern League semifinals, Jeroloman stationed himself in front of home plate as a groundball rolled to second and Erie’s Brandon Douglas sprinted home from third. Jeroloman caught the ball and turned to tag Douglas, who is listed at 6 feet, 200 pounds. Douglas leveled Jeroloman at full speed, shoulder first. Jeroloman lost control of the ball, his helmet flew off his head and he dropped to the ground. Douglas crawled back to touch home plate to score the go-ahead run.
Jeroloman was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a concussion, and he suffered a cut on his chin that needed stitches. Douglas suffered no significant injuries. The play was shown repeatedly on television and became further evidence in the mounting movement to ban home plate collisions, which finally occurred this offseason. Douglas sent Jeroloman constant text messages after the incident, apologizing.
“It’s not his fault whatsoever, and I don’t blame Brandon,” Jeroloman said. “The first thing I said to him when he reached out to me was, ‘Shut up. You played the game the right way. I’m fine. Keep texting, but don’t worry about it.’ ”
Jeroloman has yet to see a replay of the collision. “I’ve come close to watching it by mistake, and ESPN talking about the plays, and I’ll change the channel or turn my head,” he said. “I’ve seen it too many [similar] times, and it’s not fun. I’ve been hit a lot, but that one was the perfect storm.”
To Jeroloman, the incident is now in the past because he is healthy — “absolutely 100 percent,” he said — after so much uncertainty this winter.
“The symptoms, one was concussion-based, the other was not,” he said. “That’s why it was really confusing. The miracle part about it is that this is going to help neurologists later on because by operating on the nerve, it took care of both things like that. I’m not trying to say it helped them in the field, but it might help people out there with something like this.”