Originally created 07/22/98

Wagner just happy to be back



HOUSTON -- Billy Wagner will be 27 Saturday. He has a promising major-league career ahead of him and his first child is on the way.

Wagner has everything to live for, which made it that much scarier when he was struck in the side of the head by a line drive hit by Arizona's Kelly Stinnett last week.

"I'm very blessed, you're out there surrounded by angels," Wagner said. "Any time a ball is hit back at you like that you've got to count your blessings. I'm very fortunate to be sitting here talking."

Looking fit and relaxed, Wagner appeared at a news conference Tuesday and made his first public comments about the scary July 15 incident.

Stinnett's liner was on top of Wagner so quickly that he didn't have time to deflect it away. The drive sent Wagner sprawling, but he never lost consciousness and amazingly sustained only a concussion and a lacerated inner ear.

His first thoughts were for his wife, Sarah, who is eight months pregnant.

"It happened so quick, I wasn't scared," Wagner said. "The thing that scared me the most was I knew that my wife was watching and she didn't know what was going on. I just wanted to make sure her and the baby would be all right.

"I knew that I was going to be all right. I hadn't passed out or anything like that."

Wagner felt doubly blessed that he felt only dizziness from being struck.

"That's the funny part, it never hurt, I guess it hit the hard part of my head," Wagner said. "It stunned and dazed me. I didn't know what was going on at the time but I knew that I was at a ball game that my wife was watching. It was sore but it didn't hurt."

Wagner had a 2.87 ERA and 22 saves at the time he was injured. The left-hander made it clear he has no fear of returning to the mound after such a dangerous experience.

"I think a lot of people are expecting me to be horrified by it, but I've been injured so many times growing up," Wagner said. "I broke my collar bone four times and I had concussions in football. It's a part of sports. I don't get scared over things like that."

Wagner has read the stories of other players being hit by batted balls, including Baltimore's Mike Mussina and Arizona's Willie Blair.

In 1957, Indians pitcher Herb Score was struck in the eye by a line drive hit by Gil McDougald of the New York Yankees. Score pitched five more years in the majors but never regained full form.

Wagner, whose eligible to return July 31, doesn't expect a similar fate.

"I get in the car every day too and I don't say `Oh, please Lord, I hope I don't wreck,"' Wagner said. "So I won't expect to go to the mound and say, `Oh God, don't let me get hit again, don't let this happen.' That would make me not as competitive as I want to be."