Bob Blakley was playing softball Friday, June 28, of last year when his world suddenly changed. While chasing for a fly ball, his left foot became entangled in the fence.
“I didn’t realize I was that close to the fence,” said Blakley, manager of the Cottage Grove Firemen of Home Talent League baseball team. “My left foot caught half the fence and half the ground. My body kept going and forced it to snap.”
Blakley lay on the ground while an ambulance was called. He said he didn’t feel any pain until he arrived at the emergency room.
“They had to pull it back in place before they did the surgery,” he said. “That’s when the pain was indescribable, some of the worst I’ve ever felt.”
Blakley underwent surgery the next morning. A steel rod inserted with screws was used to repair of two bones in his left leg. He was in the operating room for four and a half hours.
Within two days, he was learning how to walk on crutches before he was discharged. His Home Talent season had come to an end, and his lack of presence on the field and in the dugout hurt the Firemen’s Sunday League team.
Cottage Grove, which qualified for the Sunday League Final Four round in 2018, lost three in a row to start the season but seemed to recover with three straight wins. Yet, consecutive losses to Sun Prairie, Poynette and Columbus doomed the Firemen to an uphill struggle. Cottage Grove finished 7-9, three games behind Montello, the fourth and final playoff contender in the Eastern Section.
The Firemen did qualify for the Thursday night league playoffs and reached the semifinal game. Yet, the team hopes for a championship ended with a 4-0 loss at Cross Plains.
Normally a spirited, talkative leader on the field and in the dugout, Blakley was frustrated he was not able to participate on the team.
“You feel like you’re letting the guys down. I spent a lot of time on the field and didn’t have to be out so long with injuries,” Blakley said. “It was definitely a hard, hard experience to go through.”
Family, friends offer help
Blakley’s sister and brother-in-law also took him into their home and helped him perform what would normally be simple tasks: changing his clothes, preparing his food, helping him take trips to the bathroom and bathing.
At one point, Blakley spent all but two hours a day in a chair as that was the only way for his injuries to heal.
“I had to go outside and take a walk as long as I could make it on my crutches,” Blakley said. “In the beginning, it wasn’t more than 10-15 steps. It was a pretty tough time I had to go through.
“I like to be a very active person and go outdoors. Being stuck in a chair was a pretty hard thing to realize.”
The good news is Blakley’s condition has improved since the surgery. He can’t run at full speed, but he has begun some light jogging. He’s about 75 percent toward a clean bill of health.
Blakley is itching to get back on the playing field, but he also understands he needs to be patient. He would be cheating himself and the game if he came back too quickly.
“Hopefully, I have 10 years of play. I’m taking things slow,” said Blakley, a 27-year-old shortstop and relief pitcher. “I probably wouldn’t be ready to play middle of June. I was taught and raised to play this game with respect and play 110 percent each time.”
While he continues to recover, Blakley said he has learned a lot about himself and life’s ups and downs. There are two things he is learning to do: relax and take it easy.
“Anything can happen at any time. Baseball is a sport I love, and I spend a lot of time on it,” Blakley said. “One day, I’m playing and the next day, I’m laid up in a hospital bed. It was a pretty traumatic injury. It taught me to relax, slow down and not take things for granted.”
Nearly 10 months after the injury, Blakley has returned to his job at Blakley Brothers Builders, where he said the coronavirus has not slowed down business.
With the virus forcing suspension of the 2020 Home Talent League baseball season until June, he realizes how lucky he was to have so much support during his recuperation.
“They did more than I can ask for. My mom and dad have done so much. A lot of my teammates reached out,” Blakley said. “I’m lucky to have a good set of friends that kept my mind off the negative.”