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Braves' Salazar improving after being hit by liner

Braves' Salazar improving after being hit by liner

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Braves' Salazar improving after being hit by liner
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Braves general manager Frank Wren entered the home dugout at Champion Stadium early Wednesday afternoon and saw a motionless Luis Salazar, his face covered in blood, he joined many of his players and coaches and feared the worst.

A few hours later, Wren counted himself fortunate to be able to reveal Salazar was interacting with his family members and recovering from the trauma he suffered after being knocked unconscious by a screaming liner Atlanta lefty slugger Brian McCann laced into the first-base dugout in the first inning of Wednesday's exhibition game against the Cardinals.

"We feel very fortunate and blessed that Louie is alive and that he is responding and able to communicate with his family and talk," Wren said. "We just pray for the best as he continues these tests and evaluations and whatever else is ahead of him. "

Salazar suffered multiple facial fractures and will need to undergo further tests to better determine the extent of damage done. The foul ball hit the left side of his face, near his eye, knocking him unconscious before he fell down four stairs to land face-first on the dugout floor.

Recently welcomed to the Braves' organization as Class A Advanced Lynchburg's manager, Salazar was standing on the top step when McCann's liner raced just over the green padding that sits atop the protective screen in front of the dugout.

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"He was out when it hit him," said Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones, who was on first base when Salazar got hit. "I didn't see him hit the ground. But it was awful. ... A ball hit that hard at that short of a distance could certainly kill somebody. I'm so glad to hear he's conscious and breathing on his own."

Salazar was airlifted to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, where doctors quickly grew more encouraged about his condition. Early Wednesday evening, a Braves spokesperson revealed it had been determined that the 54-year-old former Major League utility man didn't suffer any brain damage.

"[The doctors] were very concerned when he got to the hospital," Wren said. "Some of that has been relieved by the latest tests and how he's responded."

When an ambulance carried an unconscious Salazar out of the stadium to an area where he could be airlifted to the hospital, many of the Braves' and Cardinals' players wondered if they had just witnessed a tragic death.

Concern increased when one of Disney's security guards ran across the field carrying oxygen for on-site paramedics to give to Salazar, who was breathing very faintly.

"When he wasn't responding to anything the trainer was saying, I got very scared and very nervous," said Braves right-hander Rodrigo Lopez, who was standing directly behind Salazar in the dugout. "I'm still scared talking about it. I got the chills real bad."

During most of the resulting 14-minute delay, McCann crouched outside the dugout, occasionally looking in the direction of Salazar. When play resumed, Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse threw a two-strike changeup to the Braves' All-Star catcher, who took a half-hearted swing at the pitch and then immediately removed himself from the game.

"[McCann] was pretty torn up about it," Jones said. "I think we all were. I think at that point we all would have been better served to go home. You really didn't feel like playing after experiencing something like that."

McCann returned to the clubhouse and prepared to go to the hospital to be with Salazar. Before leaving, he at least gained some relief from a state trooper, who informed him Salazar had started breathing on his own and showing some signs of consciousness when he was placed on the helicopter.

Wren said that as he was discussing the possibility of halting the game, play resumed and he found himself unable to focus on what was happening on the field.

"The game took a real secondary position in all of our thoughts," Wren said. "To be honest with you, I really don't know what happened in the game. I don't know the details. I don't know who pitched. From the time that happened, it really didn't matter to me. I was more concerned that we were doing all that we could for Luis and his family."

Earlier in the day, Salazar had spent some time with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who had served as his skipper with the White Sox during the 1985 and '86 seasons. He told La Russa that his son, now 31, would be attending the game.

A short time later, Carlos Salazar raced out of the stadium to be with his mother at a nearby hotel and La Russa found himself coming across the diamond worried about his friend's condition.

"I would have been worried about anybody, but it's personal," La Russa said. "I have a great relationship with him. It scared [me a lot]."

When Jones saw Danny Bautista get hit in the face with a pitch nearly 15 years ago, he thought he had witnessed the most traumatic injury he would see at a baseball field. He altered this thought Wednesday, when he saw paramedics attempting to see if a bloodied Salazar was breathing.

"Right when I looked at his chest to see if he was breathing, one of the paramedics said, 'Is he breathing?'" Jones said. "He put his hand on his stomach and said he was breathing really, really shallow. At that point, you're like, 'His life could be in danger.' Baseball goes out the window when that's the case."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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