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Fayetteville baseball coach recovering after grill explosion

SwampDogs head coach Darrell Handelsman was one of four people injured last month when a gas grill exploded at J.P. Riddle Stadium in Fayetteville.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — SwampDogs head coach Darrell Handelsman should be on the baseball diamond ordering players to round the bases.

Instead, he's gingerly rounding the hallways of the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill, where he just celebrated his son Sam's sixth birthday.

"It's emotional, Handelsman said Monday. "I mean, Sam canceled his birthday party today so he could come up here and just (celebrate) with his dad. When he says that to you, it makes you want to cry."

Handelsman, who also manages and co-owns the SwampDogs, was at J.P. Riddle Stadium in Fayetteville on May 24 – just days before the team's home opener – when he and three others were injured in a gas grill explosion, which has been deemed accidental.

He had been trying to come up with a new sausage and pepper sandwich for the concession stand.

Handelsman says he doesn't remember what happened next, but he was left with burns on his legs, hands and face.

"To be honest, I didn't look (at the burns) the first few times I took a bath," he said. "It took me a week before I wanted to look in the mirror, and, you know, it was scary."

It's painful progress measured by the simplest things, like being able to stand up or finally being able to lock fingers with his wife.

Life, he says, will never look the same.

"When something like this happens, your priorities change," he said. "In the eight years (of managing the SwampDogs), I don't think I would have ever missed any games."

Instead of being dedicated to the family business of baseball, right now, he is just focused on family – his wife, Jody, Sam and his other son, 3-year-old Ben.

"It's painful," he says of his injuries. "Ultimately, what's gets me through, at the end of the day, is seeing Jody and seeing my boys and knowing that every day we try to get better is another day closer to getting home."

Handelsman missed opening day, and he's not sure if he'll be able to get back for the season.

"The SwampDogs and our business have been our lives for the last eight years, and I thoroughly enjoy it and love it, and it's my passion," he said. "But honestly, getting back to be with my family trumps everything else right now."


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