On a sunny but chilly day at Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley, a Greenbrier West batter lifted a fly ball to shallow right field. Independence second baseman Drew D’Angelo went back on the ball, as right fielder Daniel Kostenko simultaneously came racing in.
Kostenko caught the ball before the new teammates collided. Kostenko held on, and neither player was hurt.
In the stands, Vince and Teresa D’Angelo were able to exhale. It was a play they will remember forever, thankful their son was OK, just as every parent would be.
But it wasn’t the play. It wasn’t the moment, not the nightmare that likewise will reside in their memories for the rest of their lives. As much as they may want to forget March 22, 2012, it simply won’t go away.
“I remember it vividly,” Vince said.
As if anyone could forget what happened, that play on an early April day in Beckley served as a chilling reminder. Only the surroundings and the uniforms were different. The play itself was eerily identical to the one that almost changed Drew’s life in ways he never envisioned.
Only, he wouldn’t let that happen. If they didn’t already know, Vince and Teresa D’Angelo learned all about their son’s determination. And they realized just how strong human compassion really can be.
March 22, 2012
Baseball means so much to Drew D’Angelo. He’s a fan of the game, one he plays with impactful determination every time he puts on a uniform. It is through the game that he plans to put himself through college.
To him, the play was nothing out of the ordinary. There was no sense of impending danger on that early spring day in Oak Hill, even on a field still damp from the rain that had fallen earlier.
Just like that play against Greenbrier West, D’Angelo — playing for Oak Hill, not yet having transferred to Independence — went back on a shallow fly ball to right. Just as he had been taught, as he had done since he started playing.
As he went back, teammate Adam Jones came rushing in from right. On this occasion, it was D’Angelo who caught the ball. Unlike Kostenko, he was unable to hold on.
“The field was really wet that day,” D’Angelo said. “As I went up, my left foot planted in the ground. The right fielder collided with me and it shattered my tibia and fibula.
Chris Walls, now an assistant coach at Independence, was D’Angelo’s head coach at Oak Hill. He saw the injury, comparing the sickening thud to linebackers smacking pads on a football field.
“It scared me to death,” Walls said. “We were sitting in the third base dugout and he was in shallow right field and it sounded like it was right beside us. I knew (it was serious) as soon as he went down and grabbed his leg and his foot was pointing in the other direction. The main thing was just going out there and calming him down.”
Vince never actually saw the collision, at least not as it happened.
As many fans of Oak Hill baseball often do, Vince was watching the game from a lawn chair behind the chain link backstop. Somehow, he knew. He didn’t know what was going to happen, only that it was going to be bad for someone.
He rose out of his chair and started around the first base dugout, not prepared — try as he might — for what was about to happen.
“I heard the scream, but I didn’t know which kid it was,” he said. “It was something that no parent will ever forget.”
“Actually, when I hit it didn’t hurt,” D’Angelo said. “When I looked up, that’s when the pain shot up my back and my leg. I looked, and everything went numb. I about went into shock, until coach Walls came out there and started (consoling) me. So I came back to my senses and (realized) it’s broke. I knew right there. I couldn’t move.”
Teresa was working the concession stand, which is located on a hill high above and well beyond the left field line, and did not see the play, either.
“Somebody got word to her that it was Drew,” Vince said.
There was no ambulance on site so one had to be called. Vince estimates it took the ambulance 30-45 minutes to arrive. To a parent waiting for someone to attend to his or her injured child, it might as well have been a year.
But that’s where the D’Angelos learned about the kindness of others, that friends and even strangers can be counted on when needed most.