New York Mets right fielder Ryan Church, foreground, and Baltimore Orioles shortstop Jolbert Cabrera fall to the ground after Church was forced out during a spring training baseball game March 9.
New York Mets right fielder Ryan Church, foreground, and Baltimore Orioles shortstop Jolbert Cabrera fall to the ground after Church was forced out during a spring training baseball game March 9.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Like all of us, Ryan Church shuddered when he learned about Natasha Richardson’s tragic and, ultimately, needless death last week following a skiing accident. Anyone with a glancing knowledge of Mets’ history knows why Church was especially freaked out: It could’ve been him.

“I saw (the story) on AOL; I didn’t want to read about it. My heart just fell,” Church said Saturday morning. “I was just like, ugh. I just couldn’t believe it.”

The Mets’ outfielder suffered two concussions early in the 2008 season, and now more than ever knows how dangerous even the mildest head injury can be. In Richardson’s case, a fall in the snow was enough to kill her, which has led Church to think about his own close call.

Church eventually recovered and finally looks like the hitter who was sitting on a cool .309 average before his injury. Nearly a year later, though, it makes Church queasy to think of the way his face slammed into Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar’s knee on a head-first slide into second base May 20.

The ensuing nausea and dizziness was enough to land Church on the disabled list a few days later. He returned June 29, but was shelved again in less than week. This time Church spent a month and a half recovering, and there were fears that his wooziness might become a chronic problem.

Church seems fine now â he was 2-for-3 in the Mets’ 12-1 loss to the Braves on Saturday, and is batting .318 for the spring â even if the psychological scars might linger for a while.

He was approached by one of the Mets’ trainers Thursday, learning of the circumstances of Richardson’s death. Church shook his head in disbelief.

“That could’ve been me,” he said. “I was joking, but it’s not funny. I thought about it, and that could’ve happened to (Carlos) Beltran, it could’ve happened to (Mike) Cameron. Holy (bleep). God.”

Church was referring to the horrific collision between Beltran and Cameron in 2005 that left Cameron with a broken nose and multiple fractures of the cheekbone. And who in the Mets’ community can forget the concussion Mike Piazza suffered after being beaned by Roger Clemens in 2000?

Richardson’s legacy will be in the lesson we all share â Church, the Mets, everyone. There’s no such thing as a minor head injury; there’s no refusing medical attention, even when it seems unnecessary.