Jim Rice played for the Boston Red Sox his whole career from 1974 to 1989. In his 15-season career as a left fielder, Rice had many accomplishments, such as being an 8-time American League All-Star and being voted MVP in 1978. However, those events will never compare to what happened on August 7th, 1982.
The Red Sox were playing the Chicago White Sox on a warm and sunny day. Tom Keane got tickets to the game from a friend and drove with his sons, Jonathan and Matthew, from their home in Greenland, NH to see the game. Jonathan and Matthew were 4 and 2 years old at the time. They were seated in the second row of Field Box No. 29 to the left of the Red Sox dugout.
“You were actually right there. It was a seat that everybody would dream of when they had little kids and you wanted to get them close to the action. It was just ideal,” Keane remembered.
In the 4th inning, with a 2-2 tie, Jonathan’s favorite player, Dave Stapleton, was up at bat. Stapleton’s swing was late, and he hit a line drive foul, to the left of the Sox dugout. Keane didn’t see the ball, but heard a cracking noise. He assumed the ball had just hit the dugout. Keane then turned when he heard Jonathan scream to see his oldest son gushing blood out of the left side of his face.
Rice, with his left foot on the top stair of the dugout, couldn’t see what had happened, but when he heard the horrific crack, the “oooh” of the crowd, and the silence that followed, he knew something was wrong.
Without hesitation, Rice scooped up Jonathan and carried him through the dugout. Team doctor Arthur Pappas followed Rice all the way to the trainers’ room. Within minutes, Jonathan was brought to the Children’s Hospital.
“The next thing I remembered was Jim Rice picking him up. I picked Matthew up, and we ran through the dugout,” recalled Keane. “I was kind of chasing Jim Rice; he was carrying Jonathan. There was an ambulance waiting. When we got to the hospital, they were set up for neurosurgery.”
“I saw a boy that was nonresponsive. There was blood on his face, his head, there was blood coming from his nose and his mouth, so these are all indicative of a significant head injury,” said Pappas.
Jonathan’s skull was fractured, and he lost a lot of blood. Doctors relieved the pressure on his brain and gave him medicine to protect against seizures. Keane estimated from the crack of the bat to his son lying on an operating table took about 30 minutes. Jonathan was released from the hospital five days later.
“It was serious. I was in critical condition. An inch from my temple, and if it hits me in the temple I might have been killed. The fact that I was able to stay alive was due in large part to the fact that Jim Rice was quick to react,” Jonathan, now 31, said.
Trainer Charlie Moss chastised Rice saying that Jonathan might have suffered cardiac arrest and any sudden movement might have brought on seizures.
“Obviously, as we sit here today, what [Rice] did saved [Jonathan's] life. I mean you had a young child, his left skull is fractured open, it is bleeding profusely. If it continued to bleed, God knows what would have happened. …The worst could have happened,” said Keane.
“After the first at-bat [in the major leagues], that’s it. Just to do something that people recognize for years and years — his dad said it and even he said it — I probably saved his life. That’s one of the most important things I’ve accomplished in the game of baseball,” Rice said.
Eight months later, Jonathan was reunited with Rice. He threw out the first pitch at Fenway to open the 1983 season.
Jonathan graduated from NC State with honors, majoring in business, and sent Rice a letter telling him he is doing okay. He now lives in Raleigh, NC and works for an internet company.
He said there are no lingering effects from the tragic event, but there is a hint of a scar about his left eye. Jonathan said he really does not remember anything that happened on that day 27 years ago.
“He’s a hero in my mind. He is somebody that saved my life, and I thank God for him being there.”
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