Prep Baseball

North Linn's Parker Bechen enjoys return to the diamond after scary head injury

Sophomore has made 5 starts after head injury and surgery forced him to miss last season

North Linn's Parker Bechen (8) pulls in a fly ball for an out during the fifth inning of their high school baseball game at North Linn High School in Troy Mills on Monday, Jun. 11, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
North Linn's Parker Bechen (8) pulls in a fly ball for an out during the fifth inning of their high school baseball game at North Linn High School in Troy Mills on Monday, Jun. 11, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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TROY MILLS — Parker Bechen understands he is fortunate.

He appreciates the longer jaunt to right field when the sophomore gets the chance to play for North Linn.

The fact that Bechen is on the baseball diamond at all is a minor miracle and a product of his determination.

Bechen was severely injured when he was struck in the head with a batted ball during an early-morning preseason workout and missed his entire freshman season, recovering from surgery to insert multiple plates in his forehead and nasal areas. He returned May 29, serving as a courtesy runner, and started for the first time June 2.

“I realize things could have been a lot worse,” said Bechen, who played in six games and started once as an eighth-grader. “If I would have turned my head either way it probably would have hit me in the temple, it could have possibly killed me.”

Bechen’s unexpected journey began last year April. He was throwing short-toss to a teammate in an indoor batting cage, standing behind the shorter half of an L-shaped screen. Bechen suffered a direct hit from 30 feet away by a ball hit 87 miles per hour.

North Linn Coach Travis Griffith was working with pitchers on the other side of the gymnasium. He heard the impact and immediately knew something was wrong. Players were panicked as they got his attention and he rushed to Bechen.

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Griffith didn’t know it was a straight hit and thought it may have been a deflection. Bechen was conscious and aware, bleeding from the nose. Griffith was tending to Bechen when he noticed the severity of the injury.

“I cleaned him off and saw an indent the size of a golf ball about a quarter-inch into his head,” said Griffith, noting that assistant football coach Joel Van Etten helped by getting ice to apply to Bechen. “His nose was pushed back.

“It was as scary as I’ve ever seen. He’s lucky to be alive.”

Griffith called Bechen’s mom, Tasha, who took her son to the hospital. He underwent surgery, including the “medium- to small-sized plates” and face and head reconstruction.

“I was only thinking about him being able to live a normal life at that point,” Griffith said. “Could he function normally and go for a walk with his own kid someday and ride a bike?”

Rehabilitation was long and arduous. Bechen was idle as he began recovery. He started to attend his brother’s baseball games, but the heat and small activities, like grocery shopping and walking short distances, raised his heart rate and set off headaches.

“I couldn’t do much and I was very limited in what I could do and tolerate.” Bechen said. “I knew it was going to be a long recovery and I was going to need a lot of support from the team, community and school.

“Instead of just me going through the injury everyone went through it with me. It really felt good and helped me power through to get to this moment.”

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Bechen joined the team periodically last season, but had to remove himself when the team’s chatter and cheers caused headaches.

“It was tough,” said Bechen’s father, Jeremy, “We brought him to games. He sat in the stands because it was too loud in the dugout. He had to watch. Griff made sure to include him in everything.”

Headaches persisted for about an entire year. Bechen was concerned with accomplishing normal tasks, but turned his attention to athletics after he made strides in daily activities.

“At first, I was concerned with getting back to my day-to-day life, being able to do what I used to be able to do,” Bechen said. “Sports was second on that list. Once I got to be able to do day-to-day stuff, sports really became a priority.”

Jeremy Bechen said the goal was to start with running, then getting into the field and trying to pitch and hit by the end of the season. Griffith also had a modest time table for working Bechen back into a full routine.

Griffith said Bechen struggled with conditioning like running bases early. The more Bechen pushed himself the more normal he began to feel. He made progressed quickly. The previous plan changed to him playing the outfield, catching a pop fly and throwing.

“Everything is starting to come back. I feel as comfortable as I’ve ever been.”

Bechen has continued to advance, swinging a bat in batting practice and throwing in the bullpen. He took the mound in a game against Don Bosco.

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“There was a three-to-four week window where we went from wanting him to shag fly balls and getting him used to catching it to pitching in a junior varsity game,” Griffith said. “The last month has been awesome.”

Bechen has demonstrated a lot of determination and toughness just to return after a traumatic injury. He’s even participating in offseason basketball workouts, in addition to his baseball responsibilities.

“I’m very proud of him to get back out there,” the elder Bechen said. “I don’t think a lot of kids would go back out there. Right now, it really doesn’t faze him at all.”

Bechen wanted to take advantage on the opportunity he missed a year ago, making his first start against Iowa Valley in Traer.

“I had a chance to play, if I kept working hard,” Bechen said. “I got that chance this year to play outfield. I’m really glad. I’ll cherish every moment I have to play with this team.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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