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'Back From Broken': Baseball Prospect-Turned-Groundskeeper Overcomes PTSD14:16
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In high school, David Mellor dreamed of playing in MLB. Everything changed one summer evening. (Stephan Savoia/AP)
In high school, David Mellor dreamed of playing in MLB. Everything changed one summer evening. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

David Mellor was a standout pitcher in high school. He was even weighing scholarship offers from college teams. But, one summer evening in 1981, everything changed.

David and a friend were on their way home from the movies, and they decided to grab a bite at McDonald's.

"I forgot my wallet," David recalls, "and I went back to the car, picked up my wallet, shut the door, and took a few steps to head back toward the restaurant. And, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car come off the street. And they stopped. And then they motioned for me to go ahead and walk.

"So I started walking, and I heard them rev their engine and squeal their tires. And I saw the car speeding toward me. So I raised both my hands and my left leg, and the car hit me and threw me 20 feet in the air."

David says the pain was really intense, and the scene was chaotic. But the hell he was going through wasn’t over yet. The driver, who was just learning how to drive, panicked and stepped on the gas pedal again.

And so the car hit David — a second time.

"And I saw the car speeding toward me, so I raised both my hands and my left leg, and the car hit me and threw me 20 feet in the air."

David Mellor

"Metal bumper hit the metal handrail, and sparks flew," David says. "And the car's engine was revving, and the car was pinning the bumper against my knee. And I was screaming at the lady to stop — 'Stop!' — trying to push the car off of me.

"And I can see the lady just staring at me in a panic. Chills are running through me. The pain is intense, but I just can't get the car to stop."

An investigation showed it was a freak accident. The woman behind the wheel had simply stepped on the gas instead of the brake.

"It hurt the first time when the car hit me," David says. "The second time it hit me was even more intense. And, you know, I thought, 'What am I going to do?' I was worried — if my leg was crushed — what was I going to do with my life if I couldn't play baseball?"

'You'll Be Lucky To Walk "Normal" Again'

David Mellor could see his destiny mapped out in front of him at a very young age. He was a gifted athlete with a powerful arm. And he loved baseball.

In fact, professional baseball was in his blood. His grandfather played in the Majors in 1902, and even though he grew up in Ohio, David Mellor was a diehard Boston Red Sox fan. He even nicknamed his backyard fence the "Green Monster" after the Red Sox’ famous outfield wall at Fenway Park.

David grew up as a diehard Boston Red Sox fan, enough to name his backyard fences Green Monster after the famous left field wall at Boston's Fenway Park. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
David grew up as a diehard Boston Red Sox fan, enough to name his backyard fences Green Monster after the famous left field wall at Boston's Fenway Park. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

"I just lived and breathed baseball. Constantly," David says. "I would call into our local, small radio station at night to get a Red Sox score before I went to sleep, and played Wiffle ball, imitating all the Red Sox players in my backyard."

David was on his way to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps — until that summer evening when David was in high school, and he and a friend decided to go to McDonald’s.

He remembers the intense pain as he headed to the hospital. And, in the hours after the accident, he faced more than just physical pain.

"I remember waking up, screaming, from the first nightmare that first night," David says. "And it was just ... the nightmare was just so vivid and lifelike. Like I just ... I just relived the whole accident again."

"Did you have one the next night?" I ask.

"I did," David answers. "In fact, I had one to five vivid, lifelike nightmares every night for 29 years. ... The nightmares were so intense that I was scared to go to sleep."

"I had one to five vivid, lifelike nightmares every night for 29 years. ... The nightmares were so intense that I was scared to go to sleep."

David Mellor

David had three different surgeries.

"When I came out of the surgery, I said, 'Doc, you know, how soon can I play ball?' " David recalls. "And he said, 'You know, you won't play baseball again.' And he says, 'You'll be lucky to walk normal again.' And he put quotation fingers: 'normal.' "

Love, A Silver Lining

David says tears started pouring down his face.

"And I was bound and determined to prove them wrong," he says. "Maybe I wouldn't be able to pitch again, but I was gonna walk normal. And I was an 18-year-old kid, you know, kind of mad at the world. And there are a lot of tough days."

But one good thing did happen while David was in physical therapy. He met someone who changed his life. It started when his buddy took him out on a blind date with a woman named Denise.

"I was walking with a cane, and she liked me for who I was," David says. "She didn't judge me for my limp. She didn't judge me for how I got around. In fact, she got me out to dance at a place we went after dinner, and she just accepted me for who I was."

"Would you have met her, had you not been involved in the accident?" I ask.

"No, sir. I would have been away at college playing baseball," David answers. "I literally fell in love with her that night."

'Hey Look, That's Where Dad Lives'

Around this time, David thought hard about what he’d do now that playing ball wasn’t an option. He liked mowing lawns in the neighborhood growing up. He liked being outside. So he got the idea to be a groundskeeper for Major League Baseball.

He took some college courses in how to care for turf grass.

"And my brother lived in Milwaukee at the time," David says. "And so I reached out to the Brewers and sent them many, many, many letters and many, many phone calls, and kind of became that squeaky wheel. And the Brewers finally said, 'We'll give you an opportunity to work for the games only.' You know, I was in the Majors, and I was so excited to be there. My job's the next best thing to playing."

David worked his way up from the game day crew and became a Major League groundskeeper in 1984. And his personal life was great. He married Denise, and they had two daughters.

"My wife was driving by the park, and she overheard our oldest daughter tell our youngest daughter, 'Hey look, that's where dad lives.' " (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
"My wife was driving by the park, and she overheard our oldest daughter tell our youngest daughter, 'Hey look, that's where dad lives.' " (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

But David was haunted by getting hit by that car — twice — in the McDonald's parking lot. He had quietly suffered through those intense nightmares since that first car accident.

So he tried to cope by working all the time.

"Because if I kept busy, symptoms weren't as bad," David says. "And I remember, when the girls were probably 5 and 3, when my wife was driving by the park, and she overheard our oldest daughter tell our youngest daughter, 'Hey, look, that's where Dad lives.' And I thought that was the lesser of the two evils. I thought that was better on my family than me going home and having mood swings."

A Third Accident

David says he didn't want to go to sleep.

"It was just a matter of how soon the nightmares would start," he recalls.

"Did you dread going to bed at night?" I ask.

"Yes, sir. I was scared to go to sleep," David says. "I would do everything I could — watch TV — to not fall asleep. I mean, I was scared. I was embarrassed. I didn't think there was anybody that could relate to what I was going through."

And then, the guy who’d been hit by a car twice in 1981 … got hit again.

"I was raking out in left field near an irrigation head. And I heard a car, and I thought, 'That's odd that there would be a car noise inside the park,' " David says.

David, who’d been hit by a car twice back in 1981, got hit again — this time inside County Stadium. (Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty Images)
David, who’d been hit by a car twice back in 1981, got hit again — this time inside County Stadium. (Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty Images)

He was at Milwaukee County Stadium, standing on the field not long after the team wrapped up its 1995 season.

"I turned, and there was a car coming from behind the bleachers toward the open field gate," David says. "And so I put both my arms up and yelled to the car to stop. And the lady smiled as big as she could and stepped on the gas and came right at me.

"She hit me. I hit the windshield and landed in a pile at the base of the outfield wall pads."

The woman in the car kept going, driving along the warning track at the edge of the ballfield. But then ...

"She veered the car and turned, aiming right at me," David says. "And I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, this is it. She's literally gonna just run me right over.' And, at the last moment, she veered to the left to miss me and slammed on the brakes and stopped right beside me."

"David, I have so many questions," I say. "First of all, you must've been thinking, 'Why me?' "

"Yeah, it just kind of happened so fast," David answers. "It was a lot to process. Yes, sir."

"Did you think you were going to die?" I ask.

"When I was laying there on the ground, and she was aiming right at me again, I did," he says. "I thought I was gonna die."

"When I was laying there on the ground, and she was aiming right at me again ... I thought I was gonna die."

David Mellor

The attack was random. The driver had a history of mental illness. She’d previously threatened the Queen of England and tried to assault Oprah Winfrey. David went to court during her trial, and he says that was also a traumatic experience.

"And [it] just really intensified my nightmares," he says. "And it made me look over my shoulder and fear for my family."

An 'Aha' Moment

But David kept doing his job. And he did it so well, another team became interested in hiring him.

"Mr. Joe Mooney, who was the groundskeeper for the Red Sox for 30 years, called out of the blue," David recalls. "He called and said, 'David, I'm thinking about retiring, but I'll only retire if you replace me.' "

So David became the head groundskeeper of Fenway Park, home of his favorite team and the real Green Monster.

After 31 years as the Boston Red Sox' groundskeeper, Joe Mooney (right) called David to offer him his job. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
After 31 years as the Boston Red Sox' groundskeeper, Joe Mooney (right) called David to offer him his job. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

David began his new job the next year in 2001, just three years before the Red Sox finally broke their 86-year championship drought to win a World Series.

But David continued dealing with PTSD.

"When did you finally decided to get some help?" I ask.

"You know, I think there's a lot of different 'Aha' moments in our lives," David says. "I'd get acupuncture for pain management. And, before treatment, there was a large table there with probably 50 magazines on it. And I just happened to pick up a Smithsonian Magazine, and the first page I opened was an article about a new treatment facility for veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress."

And everything clicked in that moment: The symptoms that plagued the veterans in that article had also been following David around for almost three decades: involuntary trembling, irritability, restlessness, depression, nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, emotional numbness, sensitivity to noise and tendency to seek solace in alcohol.

First Night Of Sleep ... In 29 Years

"And, as I read that, chills just ran through me. And tears started pouring down my face," David says, "as I realized I either actively had or had dealt with 10 of those 12 symptoms. And, while it scared the heck out of me, it gave me hope.

"I thought you had to be in the military to get PTSD. I had no idea you could get it any other way. And I went home right away, and I said, 'Honey, we've got to talk.' And I opened up my soul.

"And all those things I had feared she might say, she didn't say. I should've given her credit all those years before. And I went to Mass General [Hospital] the next day to start counseling. And I walked in with my hat pulled down, hoping no one would recognize me and say, 'Why are you here?'

"Now I'm proud to be a PTSD survivor. I'm proud to say I went through counseling, and I'm proud to say I go to counseling. And a therapist has changed my world for the better. And, more importantly, changed my family's life for the better.

"You know, we had to work through to desensitize all these raw, buried emotions one by one. And each one was a Kraken — like a sea monster with tentacles.

"And Feb. 25, 2011, I slept for the first night in 29 years. I slept seven hours straight and did not have a nightmare. I felt like jumping up and down on the bed like Tom Cruise did on Oprah's sofa. I was so excited."

Getting therapy. Learning how to deal with PTSD. All of that gave David a new perspective.

"You know, I've been hit by a car three times, and I figure that's better than four. And I've had 45 surgeries, and I figure that's better than 46," David says. "I really feel blessed."

That story came from Vic Vela, host of a brand new podcast from Colorado Public Media, "Back From Broken." David Mellor's book is "One Base At A Time."

David Mellor has been the Director of Grounds at Fenway Park since 2001. (Gretchen Ertl/AP)
David Mellor has been the Director of Grounds at Fenway Park since 2001. (Gretchen Ertl/AP)

This segment aired on March 28, 2020.

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Vic Vela Reporter
Vic Vela is a host and reporter for Colorado Public Radio.

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