By Dave Utnik
May 31, 2002
WOODBRIDGE, Va.–The Lynchburg Hillcats weren’t in much of a mood to celebrate a 5-3 victory over the Potomac Cannons Thursday night.
While the Hillcats were obviously happy to leave Pfitzner Stadium with their 38th win and sole possession of the Carolina League’s Northern Division lead, the thoughts of everyone in the clubhouse were on 19-year-old Pirates pitching prospect Sean Burnett and star shortstop Jose Castillo, who were knocked out of the game following a harrowing mid-air collision in the bottom of the fourth inning.
“It looked like some kind of acrobatic maneuver you‚d see in the circus with both of them spinning in the air,” Hillcats manager Pete Mackanin said. “It was scary.”
The sight of Burnett and Castillo slamming into each other and then lying motionless on the infield dirt was a scene rife with repercussions that could be felt all the way in Pittsburgh. Injured on an unusual play where they each rushed to cover third base, Burnett and Castillo did not move for several minutes and were eventually helped off the field.
Castillo, the top-rated position player in the Pirates system and Lynchburg’s best hitter, was taken out of the game for precautionary reasons after suffering what has been described as a shin injury. Burnett, the reigning minor league pitcher of the year in the Pirates organization, was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital for X-rays.
“Hopefully it’s not serious,” Mackanin said. “I really don’t know what it is. It might be a hip pointer, but he also said his ribs hurt. He’s a tough kid, but he was obviously in pain.”
A first-round draft pick two years ago out of Wellington Community High School in West Palm Beach, Fla., Burnett led all Pirates minor leaguers in strikeouts (134) last summer at Hickory. He finished in a three-way tie for the organization lead with 11 wins and was second in ERA (2.62).
This spring, Burnett was in the midst of an all-star season. Considered the pitcher most likely to start the Carolina League-California League All-Star game next month, he took the mound with a 7-1 record and a league-best 1.55 ERA.
“Hopefully he’ll come back with a good report, but even if that happens I don’t foresee him making his next start,” Mackinan said.
In the clubhouse, Burnett had no memory of the collision or the passed ball that led up to it. He’d coasted through the first three innings retiring nine consecutive batters and was working with a 1-0 lead. That was as much a blur as the fourth inning, which started with Potomac’s Skip Schumaker singling up the middle to break up Burnett’s perfect game.