When Vin Russomagno tells his story, his voice strains to acquire a third- person tone.
The dislocated elbow. The unexplained seizure. The broken cheek. The stretchy valve in his heart. It doesn’t make any sense to him. After all, he is 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds of muscle. Such ailments are reserved for the frail among us.
But Russomagno, an outfielder-first baseman for Great Scott of the Park League, thinks he may be over that now. Given a medical go- ahead to resume normal activities two weeks ago, he’s hitting .552 with 10 RBIs in 10 games. And, going into his senior year at Brandeis, he may yet get his shot at the major leagues.
But it has been a perplexing, frustrating two years for him.
After hitting .351 his freshman year and making the All-New England team, the pro career that seemed well within grasp blew up in his face. Suddenly, everything bounded out of his control.
“. . . My sophomore year, the first game, I dislocated my elbow. I wasn’t redshirted because we figured I could make it back by the end of the season and help the team. But it never happened. I tried to play, but it just got worse. Then the doctors told me I had to sit out all of summer ball,” Russomagno said.
Then came his junior year and a game against Harvard a few weeks into the season.
He’d had a fever all day, and during batting practice, he had a dizzy spell and fell down. But he recovered and followed his teammates up to the pregame meeting.
When it ended, “I just sat there while everyone went down onto the field. I sort of put my head down and said to myself, you know, Hey, what the hell is going on? What’s wrong here?’ ”
After that, his recollection is limited. Lou DiFronzo, a Brandeis teammate, fills in.
“A few seconds later, our coach (Tom O’Connell) asked where Vinny was and we said he was still up in the gym, that he didn’t feel well. Then a guy, who I guess passed by the room and saw Vin, came yelling down, Get an ambulance.’ Vin was having a seizure.”
Russomagno pulls back his hair to reveal some mean red scrapes on his forehead.
“All of a sudden, I couldn’t control my arms or anything. I fell and hit my head on a chair and got some rug burns,” Russomagno recounts.
He spent the night in the hospital, but doctors couldn’t explain the seizure. The next day he was in the dugout as a spectator watching his team play.
“Oh, and this was unreal. There was an overthrow to first base and the ball went into the dugout and broke my cheek. I don’t know, I just wasn’t watching the play,” he said.
“At that point, I was really wondering, Hey, why is this happening to me?’ That made it two straight seasons out.”
After the seizure, Russomagno chose to stay near Massachusetts General Hospital for testing this summer instead of going home to New Jersey and playing in the prestigious Atlantic Coast Baseball League.
After weeks of testing, the word came. He had a stretchy valve in the heart, meaning that it was susceptible to infection. The valve, they told him, could fail at any time.
But, two weeks ago, he was told he could play without any limitations.
“Every now and then, I still wonder what’ll happen if it fails. Like when I hit a double and hit second base, I feel my heart beating real hard, I think about it,” he said. “Maybe I’m overreacting, but I’ve never been sick or hurt before all this happened.”
Aside from his health, Russomagno worries about his future in baseball. He knew the scouts were out there his freshman year. He knows the scouts have heard about all his injuries and illnesses, and that they have been in contact with his coach at Brandeis. But still, he’s unsure.
“I feel as good now as a did my freshman year, but I’m sure that getting to bat only 40 times a season for two years and one year of summer ball instead of two has slowed my development,” he said.
“But I’ve got friends whose fathers know scouts, and they tell me they’re coming back to look at me. Next year at school will be the biggest for me.”
He clenched his hands tightly and looked off onto the playing field.
“I’ve got to prove that I haven’t been hurt by the injuries and the lack of playing time. All I need is one more full, healthy season.”
Copyright © 1981 Boston Globe, all rights reserved. Written by Marvin Pave.