WATERVILLE — Blink. Blink again.

What did that take, half a second, at the most? Now, blink again, but imagine that as soon as your blink is over, a baseball will be coming at you harder than you can imagine. You don’t have time to process that it’s going to hit you until after the ball has already hit you.

This is what Waterville’s Dustan Hunter saw Sunday afternoon. Pitching for the Waterville 12-year old all-stars in the New England tournament at Purnell Wrigley Field, Hunter took a line drive hit by a player from Ashburnham, Massachusetts, off his left arm. A right-handed pitcher, Hunter saw the bat make contact with the ball, and the ball was on him before Hunter could react.

Thankfully, Hunter is fine. He joined his Waterville teammates for Monday morning’s game against Washington Park, Rhode Island. Hunter’s left arm was in a purple sling, matching Waterville team colors, and he wore shorts and flip flops rather than his baseball pants and cleats. Hunter paced the dugout instead of running on and off the field.

“Well, he hit the hardest ball I’ve ever seen,” Hunter said. “That was probably one of the biggest pains I’ve ever felt in my life… I got up and threw it to first, but the first baseman wasn’t paying attention. He was in shock.”

Larry Brown, Waterville’s manager, feared the worst.

“We were scared. I thought it hit him in the chest. When I got out there and he said ‘I can’t move my arm,’ I was kind of relieved. I knew he was hurt, but he could breathe. He was talking. They didn’t even stop the play and I was already on the way out there. I didn’t care,” Brown said.

Cal Ripken baseball is played on a smaller ballfield than higher levels of the game. The bases are 60 feet apart, not 90. The pitching mound is 46 feet from the plate, not 60 feet, six inches. The trampoline effect still happens, though. The trampoline effect is the term used to describe how a hit ball can come off the bat at a higher speed than it was pitched. The field is smaller, but an aluminum bat in the hands of a strong kid can still be the catalyst for a wicked line drive, like the one that struck Hunter.

Waterville infielder Gage Hubbard forces out Washington Park baserunner Emmanuel Reyoso during a 12U Cal Ripken New England regional game Monday in Waterville. Staff photo by David Leaming

Bruce Hunter is Dustan’s grandfather. He saw his grandson struck, and knows it could have been a lot worse.

“If it hit him in the face…” he said, and let the sentence trail off. It was better to not speak that awful thought.

Every sport comes with risk. We know that. We also know the positives of playing so outweigh those risks, we forget about them until they happen.

“(Hunter) threw an outside pitch to one of their home run hitters and he got all of it and hit it right back up the middle, right at him. I think he tried getting his hand up and getting it. That’s why he got it with the arm and not the chest,” Brown said.

Hunter said he knew a line drive like that was a possibility when he took the mound.

“I was worrying about it, because those kids were huge,” Hunter said.

Waterville pitcher Wyatt Gradie throws during a 12U Cal Ripken New England regional game Monday against Washington Park in Waterville. Staff photo by David Leaming

The ball struck Hunter on the inside of his elbow, missing the bone. He knew immediately nothing was broken. Hunter broke his collarbone once. This pain didn’t feel like that pain.

“I knew I didn’t, because I’ve broken stuff before, and those were worse pain,” he said.

Watching Waterville’s 9-1 loss to Washington Park was brutal, Hunter said, because fidgeting in the dugout is nowhere near the same as being on the field. Hunter considered himself a motivator on his team, a catalyst. He’s had some big hits in recent games. Hunter’s bunt single on Saturday in Waterville’s tournament-opening win over Caribe of Bridgeport, Connecticut triggered a big inning in a 12-2 win.

“We don’t really have a set leader. Every day it’s someone different. He’s definitely one of the guys the other kids look up to,” Brown said.

Sunday night, Hunter was told to rest his arm four or five days. He started to feel better Sunday night.

“I’m going to play (Tuesday),” Hunter said.

Waterville’s Garrett Gendreau throws to first as Washington Park baserunner Sammy Belboder slides into second base during a 12U Cal Ripken New England regional game Monday in Waterville. Staff photo by David Leaming

“He wanted to get his uniform on today,” Bruce Hunter said. “He’s tough. They all are. Kids are tough.”

After Monday’s game, Brown wasn’t sure if Hunter would be in the lineup Tuesday, when Waterville starts the single game elimination portion of the tournament.

“He says he is. We’ll see. He wanted to be on the field. I guess he was swinging a bat (Sunday) night, moving his arm all around,” Brown said. “He’s got no bruise. I can’t believe there’s no bruise at all.”

When he’s not pitching, Hunter plays shortstop, third base, or center field. Will the scary moment from Sunday’s game keep Hunter from pitching? Will he think about it the next takes he takes the ball?

“Nah,” Hunter said. His arm was in a sling. His competitive spirit was not damaged.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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