Provo • Mike Littlewood has seen nothing like what happened behind home plate the night of April 19 at Washington’s Husky Ballpark in more than 40 years of playing and coaching baseball.
“A really, really scary moment,” said BYU’s baseball coach.
Noah Hill, the Cougars’ senior catcher, now calls it “the most flukish thing ever,” but at the time all he could think about was trying to breathe, which wasn’t easy.
Crouched behind home plate, Hill called for BYU pitcher Easton Walker to throw a “stretch slider in the dirt” to lure Washington’s hitter into swinging at a bad pitch. The pitch was low, and hit a “lip” of artificial turf in front of the plate.
It then bounced unusually high and hit Hill square in the Adam’s apple, somehow sliding under the throat protector attached to his face mask.
“I tried to raise up so it didn’t go over my head,” Hill said. “It was the perfect scenario of it being wet and slippery, the ball hitting that lip and taking a weird hop, and then I kind of raised my head a little bit, which is a no-no.”
Hill crumpled to the ground and the hitter and umpire immediately recognized something was wrong and called for medical help. Hill said he couldn’t breathe for almost a minute and “definitely panicked.” He thought back to the last time he was hit near the throat by a baseball and a doctor told him if it was an inch or two closer it would have crushed his trachea.
BYU vs. SAN FRANCISCO
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He thought for awhile that this one had.
“Breathing is something we do every day without thinking about it, but the minute it is taken away you don’t know what to do,” he said. “When you can’t breathe, it is terrifying.”
BYU athletic trainer Judd Franson and UW’s team doctor got him to calm down and eventually breathe through his nose.
“I wasn’t able to open my mouth because my throat had closed up,” he said.
Littlewood went straight to the dugout to call or text Hill’s parents — Steve and Barb — who were live streaming the action back in Texas, and baseball operations director Tuckett Slade got in touch with Hill’s fiance’ in Provo, Candace.
Hill has played on the same baseball team as BYU third baseman Casey Jacobsen since they were six years old in Flower Mound, Texas, and Jacobsen’s mother Judi just happened to be at the game in Seattle. She also gave Hill’s parents “a play by play” of what was going on with their son.
By the time an ambulance arrived, Hill was breathing normally again, but paramedics insisted he be taken to the hospital. He spent the night there, then was released the next afternoon and was able to fly home with his teammates.
“It was extremely painful, and I had some pain for about a week and a half,” he said. “But it could have been a lot worse.”
Hill, who is batting .322 with 14 RBIs, is one of nine seniors who will be honored Saturday (1 p.m. MT, BYUtv) when the West Coast Conference-leading Cougars (31-13, 15-6) host fourth-place San Francisco in their final home game of the 2019 season.
Remarkably, the incident at Washington caused him to miss just one game. He has been held out of a few midweek games since then, but only because he’s logged a lot of innings this season behind home plate and needed the rest to gear up for this homestand, next week’s three-game series at Santa Clara, and then the WCC tournament in Stockton, Calif.
“Noah has been a solid player for us,” Littlewood said. “His athletic ability isn’t the best on the team, but he gets everything possible out of his body. His mental strength makes up for any lack of physical ability he might have.”
That mental strength came in handy the first time Hill donned his catcher’s gear after the frightening moment at Washington.
“I just tried to stay calm and I told myself, ‘hey, you have done this a thousand times before, you can do it,’” he said. “It was a crazy deal, but it didn’t take me any time at all to recover physically or mentally. I’ve been back to 100 percent for a few weeks now.”
Hill will get married this summer and finish up his degree in experience design management — formerly known as recreational management — next fall before mapping out a future with Candace, who graduated from BYU in athletic training last year.
“I am grateful for the opportunity that BYU has given me,” he said. “It has given me a second home, a second family. I’ve made brothers for life. BYU has been extremely special to me and it always will be.”