By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Jimmy Pasquale is enjoying his freshman year at Holy Spirit High School. He’s filled out to become about 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, and was excited to learn in March that he had earned a spot on the varsity baseball roster for the defending Non-Public B state champion Spartans. Yup, life is good for young Jimmy, who has shown flashes of being a very good hitter at the varsity level while getting playing time at designated hitter and first base. He’s a baseball nut, most recently jetting off from a state playoff practice for the Spartans to head up to Manahawkin for a travel league tournament — on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
Pasquale, a 14-year-old Galloway resident, has big baseball dreams ahead of him in the next few years at Holy Spirit, and possibly beyond. Those dreams didn’t seem possible just a few short years ago, when Pasquale was going through a nightmare.
The nightmare began on Oct. 13, 2011, when as a 10-year-old quarterback for the Galloway Renegades Pasquale was injured during a practice. And injured badly. The youngster had broken the femur in his left leg in three places — a compound fracture. The bone didn’t come through the skin, but for a 10-year-old boy it was a devastating injury. It immediately ended his football career, but, worse than that, could have had the potential of being life threatening. He was rushed by his parents, Jim and Vicki, to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The next day, his parents found out the extent of the injury and that recovery would be a long, arduous road.
“It was the last five minutes of football practice. We were playing sharks and minnows, I tackled a kid and another kid tripped over that kid, came across him and landed on my left leg. It broke my femur in three places. Immediately, I knew there was something wrong. I didn’t know what, but there was a lot of pain,” Jimmy said. “For the first three months afterward, I was dealing with an external fixator in my leg. It was really tough, I couldn’t really move my leg and at maximum I was only allowed to put 50 percent weight on my left leg. I had to walk around with a walker, and I was pretty much bed-ridden. I would get up a few times a day just to get the blood flowing.”
External fixation is a surgical procedure designed to stabilize a broken bone at a distance from the actual injury. It basically means that Pasquale had to have several long rods drilled into uninjured portions of the femur to allow the bone to heal correctly. Vicki had to spend months cleaning and sterilizing the outside of the leg, where the rods were protruding, to avoid any type of infection.
“It was a compound fracture. It didn’t come out of his skin. He was calm, and that was amazing for a 10-year-old kid. It was very painful for him, so I knew it was not good. The ambulance came and we took him right up to CHOP. They took him into surgery the next morning and put in what’s called an external fixator, which is four big pins that stick out of your leg and basically hold the leg together until the bone heals. He had those sticking out of his legs for three months, and the scary part about that is infection, so (Vicki) had to clean the pin sites three times a day to make sure there wasn’t any infection, and she did a great job with that,” Jim said. “He got the pins out and then started physical therapy. As the bone kept healing he was allowed to start putting more and more weight on it. But the holes from the external fixator had to fill in with bone, so that’s why he couldn’t put all his weight on it. He was so positive throughout the whole thing.”
Jim and his wife said Jimmy’s positive attitude during the nearly year-long ordeal of surgery and rehab work helped the entire family get through the process. Younger sister Sophia, a seventh-grader, also lent a hand whenever she was needed.
“I feel like he helped us get through it because of his positive attitude. He just wanted to do everything he could to get back to what he used to be,” Vicki said. “It was the most traumatic thing (for me), but through it all we drew strength from each other. He wanted to do all he could to get back to (athletics) but he knew how hard it was on us. But we were strong for him, too.”
“When the injury happened, he never got down on himself. So to see that strength and resolve in him, I knew he was a strong-willed kid and good things are in the future for him,” Jim said. “He knows what he wants in life, and that’s to play baseball at the next level. This is a lesson to him because now he knows one injury and it can all be taken away, and then what are you going to do? That’s why we stress academics so much.”
Jimmy said the road back to playing baseball wasn’t an easy one, but he wasn’t going to let the injury stop him from having a high school — and possibly collegiate — baseball career.
“I tried to stay as positive as I could, just trying to get back on the field. I came back overweight, so I had to lose all that and get my leg back into shape. I had a lot of muscle atrophy. At first, I was very skeptical about going 100 percent, and it took me a while to get comfortable with it coming out of physical therapy. I wanted to get back out there really bad. My physical therapist had me run down the hallway as fast as I could, and that’s when it started to click that I was going to be able to make it back, that I could do it,” Jimmy said. “The physical support from everybody, the mental support, just having them by my side every day, I couldn’t have done it without my parents and sister. They were great.”
Jimmy worked with CHOP rehab in Mays Landing and also Ryan Ojeda of Ojeda Sports Performance in Galloway to help get him back into playing shape.
“He kept getting stronger and stronger. He went to the CHOP physical therapy in Mays Landing and was cleared for baseball in June of 2012. He was still a little weak, but he was able to get out there. In July he played in a tournament for the Sand Sharks in Aberdeen, Md. The first pitch in his first at-bat back, he hit an RBI single, and for the tournament he went 7-for-8. He was an inspiration for that team. He worked so hard. He was doing tee work in the garage, band work,” Jim said. “He had been working with Ryan Ojeda since he was about 8 years old and started back with him in September 2012. Ojeda really got him back. The whole time he was injured his only question was ‘when can I get back to playing baseball?’ Baseball has been his first love since he picked up a bat when he was 2 years old.
“If you saw the x-rays now, you wouldn’t even know his leg had ever been broken, that’s what a great job Dr. B. David Horn did up at CHOP. The prognosis is excellent. He’s healed 100 percent, so there aren’t any lingering effects.”
Ojeda, a well-known sports performance trainer in the area, also works with stars of the Holy Spirit team such as juniors Billy Kral and Nolan Charlton. Spending time with some of the upperclassmen during his rehab helped him become comfortable with the Holy Spirit baseball team, Jimmy said, and he’s thrilled he can be part of the Spartans’ success in just his first year of high school. He helped lead the Spartans back to the state playoffs this season.
“He worked out this offseason with guys like Billy Kral, Tyler Knox, Nolan Charlton. They were all in the same group together, so they knew him (before the season). Coach (Steve) Normane didn’t really know anything about the injury. He was surprised to hear about it,” Jim said. “Jimmy is a confident kid, but he’s a down-to-earth kid. He works his butt off and he won’t accept anything less. He knows he belongs. He’s proud of himself, not only for what he went through with his leg, but for all the hard work he has put in. They gave him an opportunity and he’s the kind of kid who is the first one here and the last one to leave. Just watching him practice, I just love it. It brings us such joy to see the love he has for the game of baseball.”
Jim and Vicki said they couldn’t be happier with their choice to send their son to Holy Spirit. They applaud the dedication of the coaching staff, which includes Normane, Jason Downey, Bob Soifer and Mike Buccafurni.
“Jimmy thinks the world of all four of these coaches. They are so good to him, and he’s so grateful that he got this opportunity. He worked his butt off, and this is what he got from it, so that’s a wonderful lesson for him,” his dad said.
“I am so happy for him. He deserved it, he’s worked hard, and I couldn’t be more proud,” Vicki said. “This team is amazing. They took him under their wing and they treat him wonderfully. He was excited when he got called up to varsity. The players on this team are so wonderful. When he’s happy, we are happy. When I was seeing his determination, I knew he was capable of doing something (on the varsity level).”
“That was the icing on the cake,” Jimmy said about being informed in preseason that he would be part of the varsity squad. “I love it here, coach Normane is great, the other coaches are great, the players are great. Everything is awesome here. I was pretty confident in myself that I could handle (varsity). The pitching is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and there are kids with beards and stuff, but I just try to treat it like I’m going against my buddies in Babe Ruth. I try to go in with some confidence.
“The guys have been great. They’ve welcomed me just like I was on the team last year. Coming in, I figured I may not become friends with them right away, but they’ve welcomed me as one of their own. It’s something special. The energy, the camaraderie. It’s great.”
Having such a bad injury at an early age has taught Jimmy that he needs to be just as proficient in the classroom as he is on the baseball diamond, he said. He knows how quickly an athletic career can be taken away, so he’s determined to do well in school so that he can have something to fall back on once his playing days are over. He’s off to a good start in the classroom as well, posting nearly a 4.0 grade-point average through his freshman year.
“In the snap of a finger I was bed-ridden, and I need to make sure that if that ever happens again, I have something to fall back on,” Jimmy said. “That’s why I work so hard on my academics. I just want to get as far as I can with baseball, and I’m going to continue to work hard on my academics to see where that can take me.”
Added Vicki, “He’s been through the injury and he knows what can happen, so he needs to be able to fall back on his grades. He doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s a freshman, so he knows what he has to do. He’ll carry the bags and just do whatever it takes.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN