SAN ANTONIO -- A national study estimates high school athletes suffer nearly 400,000 concussions a year. A MacArthur High School baseball player says he’s had three.
The most recent: last week, when a pitch hit him in the head and knocked him out.
It was the last game of Michael Saenz’s senior year and his baseball career.
Saenz played catcher for four years. A catcher’s motto: there’s no place like home plate.
"You feel like you're in the spotlight,” Saenz says. “You feel like you're here for a reason. You're here to help your team win."
It’s where he beat the odds.
"Something this small can unfortunately sometimes kill people,” Saenz says while holding a baseball.
That’s what could have happened April 26 when he went up to bat against a powerful pitcher from Madison High School.
“He was getting clocked at 94, 95 miles an hour,” Saenz says.
A high school arm throwing Major League numbers.
"The next pitch, I just see come at my head,” Michael says. “I just did what I was taught over the years: turn your head and make sure another part of your body tries to get hit other than your head, but unfortunately it was my head."
That’s where Michael’s memory fades, but Coach Tom Alfieri remembers every detail.
"My first instinct when I saw him go to the ground was get up,” Coach Alfieri says. “And when he didn't get up, that's when I really started getting nervous."
A local sports photographer snapped still photographs of trainers and nurses at Saenz’s side after he hit the ground.
"Baseball seems very irrelevant at this moment because we had no idea what was going to happen,” Coach Alfieri says.
Just like a foul ball, mere inches made the difference: Saenz woke up.
The pitch hit his helmet, not his head directly, although he still has a headache from the accident.
"Basically the whole back of my head then sometimes the sides will start hurting,” Saenz says.
Concussions are a risk every player takes when stepping onto the field, and Saenz knows the rules: three strikes, you’re out.
“This is my third concussion so it's never really good to hear doctors tell you that you really can't play anymore contact sports,” Saenz says. "It's kind of bittersweet. But there are so many more things than baseball. Baseball's just a game."
The accident made Saenz even more determined to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. He wants to combine that education with his life of sports and help athletes recover from injuries.
A 17-year-old handling the setback like a pro, knowing where his life could have ended is where the rest of it began: home plate.