Phillies left-hander Matt Imhof announced his retirement on Wednesday, seven months after he lost his right eye in a training accident in Florida.
Imhof, a 23-year-old reliever, recounted the nightmarish struggles he's endured since sustaining an eye injury at Brevard County's Space Coast Stadium this past June. In a piece for ESPN.com, Imhof said he was scared, angry and depressed following the incident but has since regained a positive outlook and sense of normalcy.
But baseball, at least his playing career, won't be in the picture, he said.
"My injury is not what's stopping me," Imhof wrote. "I made this choice after six months because I wanted to be sure of that. The truth is I need a change of pace after 20 years of doing the same thing.
"I don't know if my career lies in coaching or in business, but I do know that I cherish every moment I'm able to step on the diamond and help these kids achieve their dreams," said Imhof, who is currently an undergraduate assistant pitching coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "I have never doubted my ability to be successful in life and I don't plan on starting now; whether it's a baseball field or a boardroom, I know my future is bright."
Imhof, playing for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, sustained the injury on June 24 when he was using a pair of rubber resistance bands anchored to a wall to stretch his arms in the athletic training room of a Florida State League ballpark. The mount of the bands detached from the wall during his stretch, resulting in a freak injury in which he was struck in the face by the equipment.
According to ESPN, Imhof sustained a fractured nose and broke two orbital bones in addition to an injury that eventually forced surgeons to remove his eye.
"It's a surreal moment; the moment you realize you're screwed and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it," Imhof recalled. "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. I could feel the warmth of the blood running down my face and taste it in my mouth. I couldn't breathe. I tried to move and look around, but my vision was blurry."
Imhof recalled in detail the brutal hours that followed as he was helped by Clearwater athletic trainer Mickey Kozack and later transferred from a local hospital to Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, which Imhof called "the leading eye hospital in the country."
"I woke up in a hospital room and three doctors walked in. They were holding my CAT scans and clipboards and had the standard 'I have bad news' look on their faces. The doctors explained to me I was never going to see out of my right eye again," Imhof wrote.
Imhof was the Phillies' second-round pick out of Cal Poly in the 2014 MLB Draft. He was 4-3 with a 3.91 ERA in 14 outings in 2016 before the injury ended his season. In 43 career Minor League games, the southpaw went 13-10 with a 3.69 ERA and 147 strikeouts and 93 walks in 173 frames. He won a New York-Penn League Pitcher of the Week award in July 2014 after entering the Draft as MLB.com's No. 44 prospect.
Imhof said the incident changed his life and his perspective on who he was.
"What was I going to do? Who was I going to be? Could I play baseball again? Could I live a normal life? I felt like the person who walked into that training room in Brevard County was not the same person sitting alone in this hospital room," he wrote. "Everything I thought I knew, everything I had planned for myself, was gone. Baseball, my future, my vision, all of it."
But Imhof rebounded, inspired by a doctor who told him he could indeed play baseball again if he wanted to. He's since spent time recovering and reflecting on whether the injury will define his life and how he moves forward, with or without baseball.
"My identity used to be wrapped around baseball, it was who I was," he said. "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."
Imhof said he re-enrolled at Cal Poly to finish his degree in business finance. He's working with the school's baseball team and admitted, "To be completely honest, I don't know what is next for me."
"I would like to announce my retirement from the game of baseball," he wrote. "I know many of you want me to continue my career, and to those people I would like to say thank you."