How Fenway Park’s chief groundskeeper overcame PTSD after two freak accidents
David Mellor’s baseball career was cut short when a car hit him. Years later, he was hit again while on a field.
In 1981 David Mellor was a promising 18-year-old pitcher and grandson of a major leaguer. But his dream to pitch at Fenway Park — the Ohio native’s father was a New Englander — ended when a car pinned him against a wall of a McDonald’s, wrecking his knee. Despite physical and mental pain, he eventually made it to the big leagues, as the groundskeeper for the Milwaukee Brewers. Then, in a bizarre 1995 incident, a mentally ill woman crashed her car through gates at the old Milwaukee County Stadium and ran him down on the warning track.
Mellor, who became Fenway Park’s chief groundskeeper in 2001, is now 56 and has endured 45 surgeries. After years of suffering his ongoing anguish in silence, he read an article on post-traumatic stress disorder in Smithsonian in 2010 and realized he had 10 of the 12 PTSD warning signs. He hopes to help other trauma survivors with his new book, One Base at a Time: How I Survived PTSD and Found My Field of Dreams (available June 11).
It’s insane that the woman, who had stalked Oprah Winfrey and Julio Iglesias, ran you over at County Stadium. What happened?
I put my hands up [to defend myself] and the lady smiled as big as she could and stepped on the gas and came right at me. I had enough time to raise my left leg [as if to start running away] and she hit me. I hit the windshield and landed in a pile at the base of the outfield wall. I was lying on the track. She [turned around] . . . and started aiming right at me. At the last second, she swerved, stepped on the brake, sat up in her car, smiled, and waved at me. She later said she was there to film a stunt for a movie.
What triggered your PTSD?
If I heard squealing tires, revving engines, if I smelled car exhaust, if I smelled McDonald’s french fries — those were triggers that set off a whole wave of emotions. I had one to five very vivid, life-like nightmares every night for 29 years. I knew as sure as night was going to get dark that those nightmares were coming. I slept with the TV on because I hoped that when I screamed . . . I could convince my wife that it was the TV and not me.
Why didn’t you tell your wife?
Because I was scared if I didn’t say the right words maybe she’d leave me. I didn’t give her enough credit for being the incredible lady that she is.
What was therapy like for you?
I did cognitive behavior exposure therapy where you go through and break down each raw buried emotion. I wrote them on paper. There were times I would cry so intensely that I’d have to start over because the notebook paper was just soggy.
What did you learn about PTSD?
I thought PTSD was only something that someone in our military could get. And now I know [a] leading cause of PTSD in men in the United States is car crashes.
You say in the book that the day you got run over was the best day of your life. Why?
People think I’m unlucky. I think I’m the luckiest person in the world. I never would’ve met my wife if the car didn’t hit me the first time. I’d never have two incredible daughters in my life and never have a career that I enjoy so much.
The Yankees once offered you the head groundskeeper job. Why did you turn it down?
There’s no doubt that Yankee Stadium was special, but it’s nothing compared to Fenway. And so I’m glad that it worked out that I ended up here. I’m a Red Sox fan all the way.
You have a photo of a fish on the wall in your office. Tell me a fish story.
When I was first hired I sat down with [former Fenway head groundskeeper] Mr. [Joe] Mooney. He said, “David, if it really rains hard, the dugouts flood. And if it really, really, rains hard . . . the first base camera pit will fill all the way up. The fish from the Charles River swim through the city drain pipes and out on the field.” I thought he was really pulling my leg. [The Friday night before Opening Day 2001] we were supposed to get 2 to 3 inches of rain overnight. Saturday morning the rain stopped and I walked out by the first base dugout and there was a fish on the edge of the grass. I looked up in the stands and yelled Mr. Mooney’s name a couple of times — I thought he was hiding behind a pole or something, setting me up. He was nowhere to be found. And between the camera pit and second base position there were seven more fish.
Drago, your service dog, is your teammate and is allowed to go everywhere you do, including on the field. Can you two communicate without speaking?
Yeah, he’s incredible. I think you certainly build a bond, and he gets to learn your inner feelings, your senses. He gives me confidence and courage to take on the daily challenges, because I know he’ll be there for me.
Tell me about the special tattoo you want to get to honor him. Have you ever gotten a tattoo?
No. I was actually driving to a tattoo shop and Sully, a military buddy, calls me and says I could have Drago’s DNA put into the ink. So [a company that incorporates DNA into tattoo ink and jewelry] sent us a kit and we swabbed Drago’s gums and we want to do a paw print. He’ll be right over my heart and soul forever.