Baseball: Lake Zurich’s Joey Pizzolato felled by devastating collisionLake Zurich's Joey Pizzolato, seen here before the injury, plays third base for the Schaumburg Seminoles.
Updated: July 19, 2012 5:56PM
The ground ball was routine, similar to those Joey Pizzolato had fielded hundreds of times in his young career.
Playing third base for the Schaumburg Seminoles travel team, the Lake Zurich High School senior was in Marietta, Ga., participating in a baseball tournament sponsored by WWBA Perfect Game.
During the fourth game of the tournament, Pizzolato turned to his left on a ball hit in the hole. Simultaneously, shortstop River Pitlock (from York High School), moving to his right, ran for the ball. The pair collided, but not before Pitlock raised his left shoulder, which smashed into Pizzolato’s left ear. He collapsed to the ground, his ear-lobe torn, his jaw fractured.
Down on the infield dirt, Pizzolato believed his life had been shattered — let alone bones in his face. After all, he had flown 700 miles to Atlanta with his dad, Dave, so he could play in the tournament, which is one of the most prestigious in the country and watched by hundreds of college and pro scouts.
In the ambulance on the way to the hospital — his ear bleeding, cartilage sticking out — there was one question Pizzolato kept repeating ... one thought he couldn’t erase from his head.
“Is there any way I’ll be able to play?” he recalled asking the driver. “I didn’t want the trip to be shortened in any way. I didn’t want to leave my team.”
At the hospital, an attempt was made to re-attach his ear lobe. Unable to numb the ear, nurses threaded 12 stitches. Holding his terrified son down in the hospital bed was Dave Pizzolato.
“It was constant screaming, holding him down,” Dave Pizzolato said; “the worst 45 minutes of my life.”
With so many mixed messages coming from doctors — a concussion, an ear infection, more X-rays needed — Dave booked a flight home and they flew back the next day. Joey immediately took more tests at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. Under the watchful eye of his own doctors, he received a diagnosis of a fractured jaw and lacerated ear. While that cleared up his physical status, it unfortunately put finality to his playing status as well.
There would be no more baseball this summer.
Unable to play, Pizzolato now has plenty of time to himself. In between bites of jello, apple sauce and ice cream — all his broken jaw and squashed gums can handle — the 6-foot, 175-pounder has time to contemplate the situation.
His dad, a religious man who believes things happen for a reason, has tried to help.
“It’s gut-check time,” Dave Pizzolato said. “Maybe step back and look at the things you are doing.”
That had been a lot of baseball and not much else. When Joey washes without taking a shower, or puts an ice bag on his aching jaw, he thinks hard about what lessons can be learned from such a scary moment.
“Something like this can change how you look at things. All I thought about was weekend tournaments and road trips,” he said. “I need to balance my time, strengthen relationships when I can, get closer with my sisters (Alyssa and Amanda). I have to slow down — baseball can only take you so far. You still need your family and friends.”
Pizzolato plans to play baseball next spring for Lake Zurich High School.
“One ground ball can definitely change your look on life,” Pizzolato said.