Star pitcher who lost eye retires, returns to Cal Poly

January 26, 2017

ImhofSeven months after losing his right eye in a freak accident involving an exercise band, former Cal Poly ace and minor league pitcher, Matt Imhof, announced he is retiring from baseball as a player and returning to school. Imhof says his injury is not stopping him from playing baseball, rather he is onto “bigger and better things.”

Imhof, who left Cal Poly after being selected in the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft, has re-enrolled in the university and is finishing his degree in business finance. Imhof, 23, is also serving as Cal Poly’s undergraduate assistant pitching coach.

In a retirement announcement published by ESPN, Imhof said he does not know if his future is on a baseball field or in a boardroom, but he knows his future is bright.

“With that in mind, I would like to announce my retirement from the game of baseball. I know many of you want me to continue my career, and to those people I would like to say thank you. My injury is not what’s stopping me. I made this choice after six months because I was sure of that. The truth is I need a change of pace after 20 years of doing the same thing.”

Imhof’s retirement announcement contained a detailed personal account of his accident and medical treatment, as well as his subsequent physical and psychological recovery.

Matt Imhof

Matt Imhof

Last June, Imhof was doing a routine postgame exercise using bands that had been hooked to the wall inside his team’s training room in Florida. On the fifth repetition of the second set of his third exercise, the band snapped, sprung about 25-30 feet and smashed into his face.

“It’s a surreal moment; the moment you realize you’re screwed and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it,” Imhof wrote. “I saw a flash of silver and then felt the metal hook smash into my face. Everything went numb as I hit the ground screaming.”

The impact broke his nose and fractured two orbital bones. Blood poured down his face and into his mouth, and Imhof lost sight in his right eye immediately.

After being taken to the emergency room, Imhof was transferred to the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami. Doctors performed surgery, but Imhof did not regain vision in his right eye. After discussions with his family and doctors, Imhof opted to undergo a second surgery in which doctors removed his eye and put in a prosthetic one.

While recovering, Imhof had to relearn how to walk down stairs, how to drive and how to play catch. Last August, he kept running into people on his right while walking through the San Francisco Airport, he wrote.

Imhof pitching for Cal Poly

Imhof pitching for Cal Poly

Imhof pitched at Cal Poly from 2012 to 2014. In 2013, he pitched for Team USA and in 2014, he was Cal Poly’s ace on the most winning team in the program’s history.

The Philadelphia Phillies then selected Imhof in the second round of the 2014 draft. Imhof received a $1.2 million signing bonus and then pitched in the Phllies organization until suffering the injury last summer.

The following are excerpts from Imhof’s account of his recovery:

“I’ve never felt as alone as I did in that moment; my world had been completely shattered. Not only had I lost half my vision, but now I was going to look different too.

“I felt like the person who had walked into that training room in Brevard County was not the same person sitting alone in this hospital room. Everything I thought I knew, everything I had planned for myself was gone. Baseball, my future, my vision, all of it.

“I’m not going to lie, it made me angry. I was depressed. I was confused. But mostly, I was scared. I felt like I had lost a lifetime of work. But it was more than that. I hadn’t lost it, it was taken from me. I wasn’t Matt Imhof anymore; I was a shell of him. The real Matt Imhof died in that training room along with his future. The only thing that defined me now was an injury.

“I had two options. I could let this injury define me. I could be angry — no one would blame me for that. I could be depressed, feel sorry for myself and live in the past. I could let the rest of my life be defined by the worst day of my life. Or, I could pick myself up, dust myself off and move on.

“My identity used to be wrapped around baseball, it was who I was. This injury allowed me to see past that. I might not want the same things as I used to, but that’s only because I have learned more about myself than I ever thought I would.

“I’m a firm believer that baseball, through all my struggles on and off the field, prepared me for this moment. But the greatest thing baseball ever did for me was teach me who I could be without it.

“To anyone else who cares or is facing a struggle of their own, just know you’re stronger than you think. Thank you again to anyone who has ever supported me. Although I am stepping away from playing the game, baseball will always hold a special place in my heart.

“To bigger and better things.”

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You are an inspiration Matt.

In all these times of political upheaval and uncertainty, I take comfort in good people like you.

Yes, you are an inspiration.