FORT MYERS, Fla. — Here we go again.
Another story of athletes and guns. What is the fascination?
The latest involves Red Sox outfield prospect Bryce Brentz, who shot himself in the left leg while cleaning his gun, or so the story goes.
Brentz said he was cleaning his handgun at his Tennessee home Jan. 17 and it went off. He caught a bullet in the leg. It could have been worse. He is expected to recover fully.
Brentz said he has been jogging and hitting for the past two weeks.
“It’s a minor setback, really,” Brentz said. “I plan on being in camp Monday ready to go.”
Guns, hunting, guns, hunting. All winter long, you see baseball players tweeting about their hunting exploits. If only teams could put clauses in contracts about hunting, because nothing good comes of it.
Milwaukee manager Dale Sveum was shot in the ear this offseason in a hunting accident by Brewers great Robin Yount. Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner suffered a cut tendon in his right thumb while slicing a deer he had slain and will miss about half the season.
The all-timer, of course, is the Monty Stratton story. Stratton was the White Sox pitcher who in 1938 fell while hunting rabbits and accidentally shot himself in the leg. The bullet hit a main artery in his right leg, forcing amputation.
This is not an indictment of hunting or gun ownership, but, really, when you’re a professional athlete — especially one who seems to have a bright future — why would you take chances like this? Why do three out of four NFL players own guns?
I’m not advocating that those fortunate enough to play professional baseball do nothing in their free time, but we’re talking about guns — things that can maim or kill you.
We’re not talking about the recent tragedies in the news — the shootings in Connecticut, the murder-suicide in the Kansas City Chiefs camp. Those are in a different category.
But gun accidents happen all too frequently. Some are tragic. And they seem so preventable.
Two people accidentally shot themselves on a recent Gun Appreciation Day at a show in Raleigh, N.C.
Brentz, 24, is a hunter, but he wasn’t even hunting when he was shot. He said he was visiting his brother outside of Nashville three weeks ago when he went to clean his handgun, but neglected to empty the chamber first. It fired and he was struck in the leg.
“I was very fortunate,” he said. “I understand it could have been worse. I’m mad at myself because I respect firearms.
“I have a license to carry a gun. I’m an outdoorsman and I’ve been around firearms my entire life. It was just one of those things that happened that will never happen again. I have to be more careful.”
Brentz said the accident won’t deter him from guns. In fact, he said, he eventually finished cleaning his gun the very next day.
You could tell general manager Ben Cherington wasn’t thrilled. He said the Sox have no policy when it comes to guns, but why would they? It would seem to be common sense to stay away from things that might hurt you.
Cherington also indicated that Brentz may have cost himself a chance to be in major league camp, though Brentz hoped there would be a change of heart.
“I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but I hope they’re open to it,” Brentz said.
Brentz is a Tennessee kid who has been around guns and hunting most of his young life, and cleaning them is probably commonplace to him — routine, if you will.
It’s routine until you make a mistake, and that mistake could have been fatal.
“Fortunately for him, it was something he’s going to recover from and be fine and won’t affect his baseball career,” said Cherington.
“I guess you could say he got lucky relative to what could have happened. I think he understands he got lucky and it’s a serious thing. He’s got to be careful.”
All things being equal, Brentz would have likely been up at major league camp, and the Sox would have welcomed an emerging young outfielder.
“He’s doing well,” Cherington said. “Certainly, in a case like this, we’ve talked to Bryce. We’ve had a couple of conversations with him about how serious this is.
“He wasn’t doing anything illegal or anything like that. He had a gun he was trying to clean and there was an accident. It’s something we may have to deal with case by case. We talked to Bryce about it.”
Brentz is a righthanded-hitting right fielder, described by many as a Dirt Dog, a Trot Nixon type. Last year, mostly at Double A, he hit .290 with 17 homers, 76 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .349, and a slugging percentage of .465. He was likely headed for at least a partial season at Pawtucket, and if he showed anything, he had a great chance of being called up to the major league team this year.
That may still happen.
The important thing is that Brentz should be OK. It could have been so much worse.
Every time an “accident” with a gun happens, we think, “OK, this time they will learn.”
And then we write another story.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.