This looked like just another routine ground ball to shortstop. Sean Doyle, who was standing at first base, had seen hundreds of those throughout his playing career.
The Eastport-South Manor catcher had just come off a spectacular run with the Sharks to reach the finals in the Suffolk Class AA playoffs. And this was the start of the summer season to showcase his skills and look at his college choices. The most important summer of his life never got into gear.
As the shortstop fielded the hard grounder, Doyle was running toward second base to try and beat the force play.
As Doyle was running, it became obvious to him that he would not beat the throw and decided to bail out and head toward the Eastport dugout on the third-base side of the infield. As Doyle made a left turn out of the basepath, the opposing second baseman gathered the throw from shortstop and fired to first base for the attempted double play.
"I was about 10 feet from the base and too far to slide," said the 6-2, 230-pounder. "I tried to give myself up and give him a clear path to throw to first because I wasn't close to being safe."
The ensuing throw crushed the right side of his face, breaking his jaw in two places.
"The pain was incredible," Doyle said. "My gums were numb and I thought I'd lost all of my teeth."
"It was the scariest thing I'd ever seen," said his mother, Sue. "He was in shock and kept asking about his teeth. When I got to him, his jaw was totally misaligned and he couldn't bite down and make his teeth meet. That freaked me out."
Doyle was rushed by ambulance from the Eastport varsity baseball field to Brookhaven Hospital, where a CT scan revealed a hairline fracture of the right side of the jaw. But further dental X-rays showed clean breaks on both sides of the jaw and the Doyles consulted with Dr. Anthony Cassino, the head of oral surgery at Stony Brook Hospital.
"They could have wired his jaw shut for six weeks," Sue Doyle said. "We decided on the surgery and they put in a bone plate."
Doyle lost 12 pounds but was completely healed just before the end of the summer. It was the mental trauma that troubled him. "I felt a lot smaller and weaker but the real problem was being concerned about getting hit in the face again," he said. "I cover my face when I run toward second base now -- and I slide all the time -- even if it's from 30 feet away."
The senior returned with a vengeance this season and has Eastport-South Manor off to a 10-1 start in Suffolk League V.
"He caught every inning of every game last year," coach Todd Skala said. "This year, he's like an RBI machine. He's starting to see more off-speed pitches and being very selective at bat. He's been aggressive but patient."
Doyle is hitting .443 with two home runs and 15 RBIs. He is an excellent student-athlete with a 95 GPA and very excited at the prospect of studying physical therapy and playing club baseball at Sacred Heart University.
"He has a strong arm and the pitchers are comfortable with him," Skala said. "We're lucky we didn't lose him. He only allowed three stolen bases last year and called the pitches. He's the total team player."
Doyle became a part of Eastport-South Manor history when he caught Logan Frati's perfect game, the first in ESM history.
"It was so exciting to be a part of it," Doyle said of the 74-pitch gem in a 10-0 win over Comsewogue. "Logan was great."
For his father, Sean Doyle, the ordeal was scary and never far from his mind. "I think about it every time he's on the bases," he said. "I pray for him to get safely around. It's a chilling thought that doesn't leave you."