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Baseball: Tough out – After health scare, Pellegrini leads Jackets into playoffs

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, May 7, 2016
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Ready for Challenge

READY FOR CHALLENGE – Boyd junior Spencer Pellegrini has put together a 5-1 record on the mound for the Yellowjackets. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

At the crack of the bat, Spencer Pellegrini springs forward, bends down and swiftly picks the ball off the grass after a final short hop. In one motion, he stops and fires a side-arm strike across the infield to first base.

The perfect stop with a bit of flair serves as a curtain call for the final workout before Pellegrini’s long-awaited first playoff game. Even under a near cloudless sky, Pellegrini daydreams with a sparkle in his eye about taking the field the next evening under the lights.

“It’s going to mean the world to me, honestly. I’ve never played in a high school baseball playoff game,” Pellegrini said. “People have told me stories about it. I’ve got friends from distant schools that have been to the playoffs.

“It’s such an honor to be in the playoffs. To know your team is good enough to make it. It’s going to mean a lot to take that field tomorrow and be out there with my brothers and teammates. It’s going to be a blast,” he said.

The matchup with tradition-rich, District 10-3A champion Gunter in Ponder will end a 12-year postseason drought for the Boyd Yellowjackets. In a tight 9-3A race, Boyd secured the playoff spot in the final week with a victory on the mound over rival Paradise.

“This year has been really special. At some points of the season there was kind of a scare,” Pellegrini said. “We were at that point again where we had to win this game or we’re not going to make the playoffs. But honestly, out of my three years here so far, this has been my favorite season.

“To realize we are the group of kids that get to break the drought and to be in the playoffs for the first time since 2004 – it’s big,” he said. “It’s huge for everyone on this team.”

For the Boyd junior, this year’s success and dividends of hours of practice are nothing he takes for granted. Just 18 months ago, Pellegrini was far from the pristine infield, sitting in a Fort Worth hospital room. He didn’t know if he’d take the field again.

“I still had my symptoms and had to use a walker to get around and I remember thinking ‘am I ever going to be able to play sports again? Am I ever going to get back on the field and play my favorite sport of baseball?'” Pellegrini recalled. “That went through my head a lot. It’s a miracle that I got back and going.”

In the fall of 2014, Pellegrini was the placekicker for the Yellowjackets football team. As district play started, Pellegrini started feeling a strange sensation in his legs.

“A couple of weeks before, I was talking to our trainer Demond [McDuffie]. I was having some numbness in my feet,” Pellegrini said.

He also went to the doctor, who suggested they monitor the condition and note if it worsened. One day in class it did.

“I was sitting in the middle of history class, and I felt the numbness go all the way up to my waist,” Pellegrini recalled. “I called my mom and said, ‘Momma, ‘I can’t feel anything from the waist down and can’t walk.'”

Tammy Pellegrini remembered the frightening day. She took Spencer to the hospital in north Fort Worth, but he was soon in an ambulance headed to Cook Children’s.

“It was a pretty scary time,” Mrs. Pellegrini said. “They ran every test, MRI, spinal tap. After they ran the gambit of medical tests, they said it was a virus that had affected his nervous system.”

His father, Ron Pellegrini, was out of town on business but rushed back home.

There was a brief worry that perhaps he had contracted Guillain-Barr from a recent flu shot, but tests eventually ruled that out. He slowly started regaining his strength.

“It was some type of virus that came out of nowhere,” Pellegrini said. “It was not contagious or anything. Just a virus that got a hold on me somehow.”

As he started to get back on his feet, there were some fears about residual effects.

“I had those fears [about if I’m going to walk again],” he said. “I know my parents did, too, but I know they didn’t want to tell me that.”

After a week in the hospital, he was discharged. Then a few days later, the symptoms left almost as quickly as they started.

“I was at home and called my mom and told her I could feel the numbness going away,” he said. “I woke up the next morning and I could walk.”

He even found his way on the field to kick an extra-point in the Yellowjackets’ game the following week against Breckenridge.

“It was an unbelievable blessing,” said Ron Pellegrini. “It was remarkable – his recovery. It shows the power of prayer. The whole team and community was so supportive. Having that support structure in place helped so much.”

By baseball season last year, Pellegrini was back at full health. He was exactly where he longed to be and with a new perspective, but Boyd finished out of the playoff picture. With nearly the entire team back this season, the Yellowjackets won 10 extra games and made the postseason.

Pellegrini has played a huge role in the success. On the mound, he’s 5-1 with a 2.96 ERA in 52 innings.

“He’s our workhorse,” said Boyd coach James Karcher. “All the big games, we give him the ball.

“Early in the year, he was walking four, five or six per game. The last few outings, he’s walked just two or three. He’s getting better and better and continues to pound the strike zone.”

Pellegrini credits extra work in the bullpen for helping him on the mound.

“I started the year and wasn’t throwing a lot of strikes or hitting the zone,” he said. “My coaches and I stayed after practice for a while throwing bullpen after bullpen to figure out what was wrong. We figured it out and made some adjustments on the mound.”

He also developed a tough go-to slider to get out of jams.

“These past few games, my slider has been my savior. When my fastball wasn’t working, Coach Karcher would call the slider,” Pellegrini explained. “They would think it’s coming at their head and pull away.

“The first slider against Henrietta, the kid pulled away and turned his head, and it flew right back into the zone. I knew it was going to be a real game.”

When not on the mound, Pellegrini has played third base and shortstop. He’s second in the order and hitting .415 with an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.1. He’s driven in 18 runs with one homer.

“He’s probably not a two-hole hitter and more of a third-hole hitter,” Karcher said. “But we don’t have one, and at a small school you just fill in the best you can. He’s done a great job for us.”

Pellegrini wishes his power numbers were better, but he’s been more concentrated on doing whatever he can to help his team.

“At the beginning of the year, I was leading the team in batting average and thought I’d be slugging the ball better than I am right now,” Pellegrini said. “But any way I can get on base and get a run for my team works. It doesn’t matter about batting average. To me it’s about on-base percentage and RBIs and sacrificing myself to help the team.”

As Spencer made his final preparations for his playoff debut, his father wrapped up a meeting in Philadelphia to jump on a plane and get back in time.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Ron Pellegrini said.

Like the bouncing ball taking a final bound before landing in the glove, Pellegrini takes nothing for granted. Even the next step.

“It makes me a lot more passionate for the game I love,” Pellegrini said. “I thank God every day that I can walk now and can play the sport with my friends and brothers out there. It definitely made me a lot more passionate for the game.”

BASEBALL PLAYOFFS
BI-DISTRICT

CLASS 4A REGION I

DECATUR VS. KENNEDALE
Game 1: 7:30 p.m. Friday at Decatur
Game 2: 5 p.m. Saturday at Kennedale
Game 3: 30 minutes after game two

BRIDGEPORT VS. MIDLOTHIAN HERITAGE
Game 1: 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bridgeport
Game 2: 1 p.m. Saturday at Midlothian Heritage
Game 3: 30 minutes after game two

CLASS 3A REGION II

PARADISE VS. POTTSBORO
All games at Frisco Independence
Game 1: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Game 2: 2 p.m. Saturday
Game 3: 30 minutes after game two

BOYD VS. GUNTER
All games at Ponder
Game 1: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Game 2: 1 p.m. Saturday
Game 3: immediately after game two

CLASS 2A REGION II

CHICO VS. QUANAH
All games at Hoskins Field, Wichita Falls
Game 1: 5 p.m. Friday
Game 2: 30 minutes after game one
Game 3: Saturday, TBD

ALVORD VS. WINDTHORST
All games at Graford
Game 1: 4:30 p.m. Friday
Game 2: 7 p.m. Friday
Game 3: 9 a.m. Saturday

SOFTBALL PLAYOFFS
AREA ROUND

CLASS 4A REGION I

DECATUR VS. ABILENE WYLIE
All games at Graham
Game 1: 5:30 p.m. Friday
Game 2: 30 minutes after game one
Game 3: 1 p.m. Saturday

CLASS 2A REGION II

ALVORD VS. MOODY
All games at North Crowley
Game 1: 6 p.m. Friday
Game 2: 1 p.m. Saturday
Game 3: 3 p.m. Saturday

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