TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - It happened in less than a second.
Peyton Workman was pitching a tournament game last summer. She sent the ball sailing down the middle. The batter made contact. Next thing she knew, Peyton was on the ground, blood, she says, everywhere. The ball had smacked her in the middle of the face.
"It was shocking," she said. "I didn't really know what happened."
It takes less than half a second for a typical 60 mile per hour high school softball pitch to travel the 43 feet to home plate. It takes even less time for it to get back to the infield from the bat. With such little time to react, softball players, particularly those pitching and at first and third base, are at risk for facial injuries and head injuries from being struck by a ball.
Peyton went to the emergency room, where doctors initially feared she'd crushed all the bones back into her nasal cavity. She had a lot of swelling and, fortunately, a broken nose that did not require surgery.
Athletic trainer Mike Flynn with Topeka's Cotton-O'Neil Clinic says Peyton was lucky. Broken jaws and cheekbones, and severe eye injuries also are a risk, along with brain injuries such as concussions or bleeding.
"If there's enough force to fracture your cheekbone or nose or to fracture your jaw, there's enough force to contuse or bruise your brain," he said.
Flynn says it's estimated nearly half of the facial injuries sustained in sports each year could be prevented with a properly-fitted helmet and face mask. It's important to wear it every single time, even in practice.
Flynn says pitchers and batters will be throwing and hitting just as hard in practice as they would in a game, so if players get lax on protecting themselves or paying attention to their surroundings, one little slip could spell big trouble.
But at the high school level, it's rare to find anyone taking a swing at requiring face masks for infielders.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association only requires face masks on batting helmets. KSHSAA softball administrator Fran Martin says it looks to its national organization in setting safety rules. Several years ago, the softball pitching distance was moved from 40 to 43 feet because of this issue. She says KSHSAA also continuously review the makeup of bats and how they affect ball / bat exit speed.
In 2013, the Shawnee County Girls Softball Association added a rule requiring masks for pitchers and first and third basemen, but only in the younger, seven and under and 14 and under divisions.
Peyton did wear a protective mask when she was at those younger ages, but, as time went on, she said it became "annoying." Since her accident, however, she's changed her tune.
"Knowing what can happen, I wear it all the time," she said.
Peyton and her family are making the pitch to her peers to do the same. They had her facial xray put on tshirts, with the message, "Save a face, wear a mask."
"It may look funny and it may be uncomfortable but it's much better than getting hit or breaking bones - and it could kill you if it hit you in the right spot," Peyton said. "I'm very grateful and I give all the glory to God on that."
Peyton Workman experienced severe swelling and a broken nose when she was hit in the face with a softball. (Photo submitted)