May 4, 2011
UC Santa Barbara pitcher Nick Capito straddled the mound. He looked down to his catcher Marty Mullins. It was April 24, 2010. Capito was preparing to throw his first pitch of the fourth inning. Through his first three innings, the Gaucho lefty had allowed just one hit to Long Beach State and his team was on top, 3-0.
Capito went into the windup and delivered a change-up on the outside corner to the 49ers' Devin Lohman. Lohman swung and made contact. He hit a hard line drive up the middle. The next thing Capito knew, he was sprawled out on the mound.
Lohman's line drive deflected off the bill of Capito's hat and then struck him right between the eyes.
"I saw it coming," Capito remembered. "I thought I got a little bit of my glove on it, I wasn't sure, and then it hit my hat, then me, and I went down. I didn't go unconscious or anything, I was just laying there kind of in shock, thinking `Geez, what just happened? I should have caught that.'"
The next thing Capito remembers is athletic trainer Mike Martinez and head coach Bob Brontsema running out to the mound and kneeling next to him.
"I was alright," Capito said. "I was fine. I honestly could have gotten back on the mound and pitched, but no one was going to let that happen after a head injury like that."
Capito was taken to a Long Beach hospital where cat scans showed that the only damage he suffered was cosmetic.
"The next day, my eyes swelled up like a balloon," he said. "But nothing was broken."
A few months before getting hit in the face with the line drive, during Christmas break, Capito had to face far greater adversity as his maternal grandmother and one of his best friends each passed away.
"Losing my grandmother was very hard," said Capito. "We were very close."
The death of his friend came in particularly tragic circumstances.
James Wernke was walking his dog in a rainstorm. They walked near an overflowing creek and Wernke's dog fell in. Wernke went in after the dog, slipped, hit his head and lost consciousness. The authorities said he drowned.
Capito and Wernke had been teammates at Santa Ana College.
"I became really close with him," Capito said. "He redshirted our sophomore year and then signed a Letter of Intent to go to Long Beach State, so he would've been there this year. It would've been fun playing against him."
Indirectly, Capito believes that his friend was there the night that he was felled by the line drive in Long Beach.
"I had James' initials written on the side of my hat and the ball hit the hat, probably taking some of the impact, before it hit me in my forehead," recounted Capito. "I really believe he was looking out for me. It was at Long Beach State, too, the school where he was supposed to be going. It was just kind of a surreal thing."
While the ball hitting the cap most certainly minimized the physical damage suffered by Capito, there was still the challenge of actually climbing back onto the mound and pitching again.
"The next couple of days (after the incident) I was just icing it and trying to recover," he said. "(Pitching coach Tom) Myers asked me if I'd be able to go next weekend and I said `yeah, of course.' I was feeling fine and just wanted to get back on the bump."
When Capito did return, something had definitely changed.
"I felt fine physically, but it was just kind of a mental thing," he said. "I really wasn't the same after that. I was still a little shell-shocked the rest of the season. I don't think I really bounced back too well."
After jumping out to a fast start in 2010, Capito was up-and-down after the line drive incident. It took him a while, but he finally started to return to normal during the summer when he played for the Wisconsin Woodchucks in the Northwoods League.
"It was kind of a hard thing to get over," Capito said. "It took me about a month. I went to play summer ball in June and started to feel better. They use wood bats out there and that didn't scare me as much as metal bats, or whatever they are now. That kind of put some ease in the back of my mind about the balls coming off the bat."
While Capito started progressing from the moment he got to Wisconsin, there was still one thing he had to overcome: another ball hit back up the middle.
"Last summer, I remember having my first comebacker and it was just a soft ground ball," he recalled. "I jumped back and flinched pretty bad, but I got the ball and ran it over to first, and I was like `okay, well that was my first one and there will probably be more, so you better be ready.'"
Capito enjoyed, and truly benefitted from, his summer season in Wisconsin. He pitched well, helped the Woodchucks get within one game of playing for the league championship, learned a new pitch (a two-seam sinker) and really re-focused himself for the 2011 UCSB season.
"I came back during the fall with a vengeance," said Capito, who also bounced back from surgery to his left elbow while pitching at La Quinta High School. "I just wanted to win, I wanted us to have a good season and I was willing to do whatever role I was given."
While Capito was primarily a starter as a junior in 2010, he has been primarily a reliever in 2011. In fact, entering the first weekend in May, the Whittier, Calif., native had made 19 appearances on the season, 17 out of the bullpen. He did, however, start - and win - a May 1 game at UC Riverside.
Capito has adapted to his role out of the bullpen, but it isn't out of the question that he could re-enter the rotation on a regular basis. Either way, he's at ease.
"I've become accustomed to `whatever happens, happens,'" said the art history major. "I'm ready for anything. I've never really pitched exclusively out of the bullpen before, and the beginning of the season, I thought, was a great test to show that I can fill whatever role I need to fill."
Capito is 4-2 and tied for the team-lead in wins. His 3.20 ERA is the lowest among all pitchers who have tossed at least 45 innings and he has allowed just 34 hits in his 45 innings.
"I feel I've helped the team out of the bullpen and as a starter," Capito said. "It's been pretty topsy-turvy, but whatever the situation is, I'm basically just trying to get guys out. It's all the same. Pitching is pitching. People want to talk about pressure situations, but I just come in and try to get guys out and do my job."
20 Questions With Nick Capito
What are your favorite things to do when you're not playing
If you were on a deserted island and could bring only three
things, what would they be?
What is your favorite class you've taken at UCSB?
I've taken a couple I've liked a lot. Probably Fall quarter it was a modern art history class with Professor Monahan. I think it was Art History 119F. That was a really cool class, it was art from after WWII up until today, so it was a lot of the modern stuff that I had never really studied that much.
Do you have any role models?
What's the best part about waking up in Santa Barbara every
What's your favorite TV show?
What will you miss most about life at UCSB after you
What actor would play you in a movie about your life?
Your favorite sports team is the Dodgers, so that's an easy one.
What is your favorite movie?
Do you have any pre-game rituals?
IWho is your favorite musical artist or band?
What's your favorite spot on campus?
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
What is your favorite UCSB sport to watch besides baseball?
Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite book?
What is one thing about you that most people do not know?
Do you have a motto that you live by or some words that someone
said to you at some point that you think about a lot?
In one word how would you describe UCSB Baseball?
What are your goals once baseball is over, like once you have to
be a career person?
If you had a book written about your life, what would the title
Do you have any nicknames?