BY JOHN SHERMAN
At the last second, C.J. Woodrow saw it coming.
A batted ball was coming toward his face at more than 100 miles per hour, and he was holding a bucket of baseballs in his hand.
He dropped the bucket, swinging his hand up, but it was too late.
The ball hit him squarely in the cheekbone.
"I was at the wrong place at the wrong time," said Woodrow. "My cheekbone was shattered in two places, and I went straight to the hospital."
The accident happened during batting practice before the first game of the 2011 Minnetonka Millers amateur baseball season. At the time, Woodrow was 29 years old, and some teammates wondered if he would ever be able to play the game again.
Woodrow answered that question last week when he pitched in a Riverview League game against Northwest Suburbs at Minnetonka’s Veterans Field. The veteran right-hander tossed a three-hitter to win 11-1 in the seven-inning game.
There was nothing magical in the way Woodrow won.
The former Maple Grove High and University of Minnesota pitcher followed a familiar pattern.
"The main thing I try to do is get ahead on the count and let my defense do the job," he said. "We have had trouble scoring runs in a few games, but tonight we got back to being the Millers."
The Millers, 10-time state champions in Class A amateur ball, stood 12-2 after Woodrow’s win.
"It’s fun for me just to be playing again," said Woodrow.
Hoy said the Woodrow’s absence hurt Minnetonka’s state title chances last year.
"Sure, we have a deep pitching staff," said Hoy. "But when one of your top guys is out, it’s going to hurt. C.J. is an inning gobbler."
Last week’s appearance was Woodrow’s third of the season and his second start.
"You always worry about the psychological effects of an injury like that," said Hoy. "C.J. isn’t gun shy. He keeps pumping strikes, and that keeps the fielders in the game. Tonight, he was hitting his spots better."
Hoy is optimistic about the season.
"We’re not clubbing the ball right now, but we’ve won some close games," he said.
As the season progresses, one of the back stories will be Woodrow’s ability to continue his comeback.
There is already one positive for the pitcher, who had two plates placed in his face to repair his damaged cheekbone. He’s certified to fly.
"When I went through the metal detector at the airport, it didn’t go off," he said.
Asked for his final thoughts on the injury, Woodrow said, "It was bad, but it could have been a lot worse."