Sports can make you famous. Sports can morph a faceless person into a local celebrity or even an icon. A future is almost guaranteed for athletes who are good enough to separate themselves from the pack.
Robert Wash was on that path until it all went away with a single pitch.
Before enrolling at Columbia College in Chicago, Wash was a talented baseball player. He played catcher for his high school team, the Downers Grove North Trojans, and he was promoted to junior varsity while just a freshman.
Wash excelled behind the plate and even had colleges taking notice of his skills.
“[Baseball] was the one sport that I would standout in,” he said. “I pretty much played it my entire life.”
But Wash never became the star catcher for an NCAA baseball team. No MLB scouts ever came to see him.
One day Wash stepped up to bat in what was just another ordinary game. But nothing about that plate appearance turned out to be ordinary.
The pitcher hurled a fastball, but he lost control and the pitch sailed high and tight. Wash was not able to get out of the way in time and he was struck in the face.
Even major league players get hit in the face and Wash compares it to an incident where one of his baseball heroes, Paul Konerko got hit. Except, Wash said, his plunking had one huge difference.
“Mine blinded me in my right eye.”
Wash was rushed to the hospital where he was told he needed eye surgery to reconnect his retina to his brain. He also was suffering from internal bleeding and a fractured eye socket.
Despite the efforts to restore his sight, the pitch left Wash blind in his right eye and cost him his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player.
“It was when I was in the hospital that I knew I had to pick a new career path,” he said.
After his recovery, Wash looked to carve out a new path in the baseball world, one that didn’t involve a bat and glove.
“I knew I wanted to be around a baseball diamond still, so I began writing for my high school team instead of playing.”
Wash became his former teams’ beat writer and as he honed his skills as a writer and discovered he had a knack for putting words to paper. Nevertheless, the transition was not easy and Wash still yearned for the game, acknowledging it was a difficult transition and it “sucked” not being able to play.
“It was a weird switch from playing,” Wash said. “But at least I had the chance to be near the game and watch my one true favorite sport, baseball.”
Now just days away from walking across the stage in Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theater — the very same stage where newly minted NFL players walked during this month’s NFL Draft — for Columbia’s graduation ceremony, where Wash will receive his degree in journalism, Wash prepares to live out his new dream: sports reporting.
Wash already has a foot in the door, having covered a White Sox game from the press box in U.S. Cellular Field and interned at Comcast SportsNet in Chicago.
While he will be airing highlights instead of appearing in them, the future is bright for Robert Wash.