C/O McMaster Baseball
After a major collision, two varsity athletes have faced months of recovery time
The 2021 season was supposed to be a good one for the Marauders baseball team. They had championship aspirations on their mind and a team with a chance to do it, featuring the reigning Cy Young winner (awarded to the best pitcher in the league), Julian Tymochko, the reigning (and now back-to-back) most valuable player, Nik Motruk, the 2021 rookie of the year, Josh Kalmin and four players who would be named to the 2021 all-star team.
Having finished with an OUA silver, many would suggest the season to be near perfect, but a major collision changed the whole story.
On the weekend of the qualifiers, McMaster needed to win just two games to secure a spot in the playoffs. Oct. 9, the first day of games, was not what they expected when they lost both games. They would eventually win both games on Oct. 10 to earn their spot in the playoffs and many of the team members credited a newfound motivation after a very scary moment in their second loss.
It was a standard baseball play; a shallow fly ball to left. Left fielder Mark Zanette ran in, attempting to get to the ball before it dropped. Shortstop Nicolas Velocci, realizing just how shallow the ball was hit, began ranging back to make the play. With the ball in no man's land, neither felt they had a clean play and when nobody called it, both ran at full speed to try and get there in time.
At the last moment, Velocci goes to make a desperation play, diving for the ball. Instead of making the catch, Velocci’s head would collide with Zanette’s knee, leaving both players with severe injuries.
“I went into a full on dive and everything from there on is just black. I don’t remember anything. I remember for a few seconds getting loaded onto an ambulance and that’s where it all hit me . . . I didn’t have time to gather my thoughts, but I knew that something was wrong. Seriously wrong,” said Velocci.
Following the play Velocci would lay there unconscious. Ambulances quickly made their way to the field, the first taking Velocci and a second (later arriving) to take Zanette, who soon realized he could no longer hold his weight.
“As the ball was about to hit my glove, I felt the impact on my knee. I did a flip in the air [before landing] and wasn’t really sure what happened . . . I think adrenaline was going, so I didn’t feel that much pain in the moment,” said Zanette.
Zanette originally believed that he was relatively unscathed and had gotten lucky. It was only after a few minutes that he would realize how badly he was injured.
The outfielder would later be diagnosed with an intermediate grade partial thickness tear of the ACL, a complete tear of the proximal PCL, a grade one MCL strain, a radial tear involving the posterior root of the medial meniscus, an impaction fracture at the medial femoral condyle and several other less significant injuries throughout his leg.
It has already been three months since the incident and, although Zanette has gone a long way, there is still a long path ahead with several more months of recovery.
“I avoided surgery, which helped a bunch. In terms of a [recovery] timeline, I’m not really sure . . . By the end of the school year, I won’t be back to normal, but pretty functional again,” said Zanette.
As bad as that may sound, Zanette may have actually gotten the better of the two. Zanette may have a longer recovery period, but Velocci had a much more difficult time thus far, with his site of injury being his head.
Velocci would incur fractures and breaks to his nose, jaw, orbitals and cheekbones, while also dealing with a concussion. He would spend 14 days in the hospital in a time when hospitals were trying to get people out as quickly as possible due to the pandemic.
In the recovery process Velocci would have his jaw wired shut with screws and elastics for three weeks, causing a 30-pound weight drop. He also needed a breathing tube inserted in his throat (tracheotomy) and went through two surgical procedures.
“I can say whole-heartedly that it was the biggest challenge of my life. In the beginning I didn’t even know if I was going to be alive — it was that big a shock to me. I remember asking the doctors while half out of it if I was going to live . . . It was traumatic,” explained Velocci.
Velocci described the early days of the injury with a very dark tone, elaborating as to just how terrible an experience it all was.
“It was bad. It was so painful that I kept passing out. I wasn’t even awake,” said Velocci.
Through the interview, Velocci continuously brought up the number 53. This was the number of days in which he called the recovery period. This is the timeline from the day it happened to the day he was finally able to function somewhat normally and unassisted.
He hopes to begin training with the team again before the winter is over as he is already doing much better and hopes to be fully recovered over the next month or so.
The event was very traumatic, not only for the players involved, but also for their teammates who witnessed it all. They would soon develop the hashtag #DoItForNicolasandMark, which helped inspire their playoff run.
The team would go back to the tournament after two losses, facing elimination and win both games to advance for their chance at a medal. In a past interview with the Silhouette, pitcher Josh Kalmin commented on the situation and how badly the team wanted to do it for their fallen teammates.
“Going back on that bus Sunday morning, we knew we were going to win. No one on our team ever said anything about [possibly losing]. We were going to do it for Nicolas and for Mark,” said Kalmin.
As badly as Velocci and Zanette wanted to be on the field, they were thrilled to see the success the team had. They both plan on a full return next season, where they will once again have their eyes set on the gold.