Labeling LSU sophomore outfielder Chris Sciambra as a living miracle might not be too far out of the question.
Walking off the field with a concussion and two non-displaced fractures in his C-1 vertebrae after colliding head-on with the center field wall while attempting a diving catch may qualify as a miracle in itself — let alone his full recovery and return to baseball.
More than 10 months after suffering his grisly injury, which caused him to spend more than three months wearing a neck brace and many more months learning the basics of baseball again, Sciambra is back on the diamond and preparing to start another season with his team.
Just don’t call it a feel-good story.
Sciambra said he doesn’t feel special despite having been inches away from potential spinal cord damage that could have ended his baseball career.
“I know people will probably want to make excuses for me if I don’t do well or if I strike out, but I won’t be making excuses for myself, because I know that I’m past the injury and it’s no longer affecting the way I play,” Sciambra said.
Sciambra said other broken bones and baseball injuries such as Tommy John’s shoulder surgery are equally as bad and require equally inspirational comebacks.
Despite his best efforts to downplay his injury, Sciambra’s coach and teammates aren’t buying it.
“With what could have happened to that young man, fracturing his C-1 vertebra, oh my goodness,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “To see him back out on that field and participating full-speed, no-hesitation, it’s really a miracle.”
Senior infielder Mason Katz said Sciambra’s comeback continues to be a motivating factor for the Tigers as they begin a new season.
“Seeing a kid come off a horrible neck injury like that makes you think, ‘If he’s out there working by himself, and he just came off a neck injury, why can’t I?’” Katz said.
Katz was one of the first teammates to reach out to Sciambra after his injury last March. Katz called him soon after the accident and dedicated the remainder of the season to him, which Sciambra said meant a lot coming from one of the upperclassman leaders of the team.
Both undrafted out of high school and not as highly recruited as other LSU players, Katz said he couldn’t help but feel a connection with Sciambra even in the short amount of time they had played together during Sciambra’s freshman season.
“We weren’t these high recruits like JaCoby Jones and Ty Ross coming here and turning down draft money,” Katz said. “We came here with no money, just to go to school at LSU because we love LSU.”
With only one spot in the Tigers’ outfield locked in with All-American outfielder Raph Rhymes, Sciambra thinks his opportunity to play is even greater than last season.
Sciambra inserted defensive intensity into a short-handed outfield last season while contributing solid numbers from the batters box. He started 16 games in center field and batted .246, driving in 11 runs in 61 plate appearances.
This season, Sciambra will compete for one of the two final starting positions in an outfield that is more crowded than the unit he broke into last season with freshmen Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird now on the roster.
But Sciambra said he feels confident he will play a bigger role on the team thanks to the experience he gained in his short freshman season.
“Right from the beginning of the year, I felt like I have a much better chance to play, so I’m going to set my goals a lot higher this year, knowing that going into the year I’ll be such a key part of the team,” Sciambra said.