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Foothill League baseball: When life throws a curve

Saugus senior Kerrigan has a bright future with Notre Dame, but a knee injury cost him his present

Posted: May 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Saugus High senior pitcher Scott Kerrigan suffered a severe knee injury during a routine rundown in a preseason practice. The injury didn’t cost him his scholarship to Notre Dame, but it did cost him the chance to suit up for the Centurions in 2011. To make up for it, he still shows up to most games and practices.

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Scott Kerrigan wasn’t supposed to be sitting in the dugout the whole season.

Not this season. Not his senior year.

Not the year he was supposed to impress scouts and light up radar guns and prove why he is Saugus’ undisputed ace.

But sometimes that’s how baseball is. Sometimes that’s how life is.

The Saugus pitcher knows that more than anyone now, given the blow he was dealt just weeks before the start of this season.

During routine rundown drills in a preseason practice, Kerrigan suffered a partial tear and severe sprain of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, effectively ending the 17-year-old’s season.

“I just assumed that I would be able to play,” Kerrigan says. “But baseball is a fragile game, and it just shows you how quickly everything can be taken away from you.”

Kerrigan, who signed to play with the University of Notre Dame in November, says he spent about half a second feeling sorry for himself. Naturally, he wondered if he’d lose his scholarship or lose the strength and ability needed to pitch at the college level.

Sure, he’d have to miss his senior season after surgery. But Kerrigan doesn’t consider it a story of tragedy and lost opportunity. If anything, it’s given him a new perspective.

It’s given his teammates a new perspective.

“Baseball is a game of failures, so any positive reaction to stuff like that is going to help everybody,” says senior teammate Nick Lombardi. “Baseball is a mental game, too, so even to overcome injuries and stuff like that and keep it out of your head that you’re getting worse because you’re not able to play. Staying with that positive mentality is good.”

Lombardi has been playing baseball with Kerrigan since age 10, so he knows more than anyone how much the game means to the Notre Dame-bound right-hander.

For his recovery, Kerrigan has to undergo therapy sessions that last at least 90 minutes three times a week, and he has to check in with his physician once a month.

Regardless, he shows up to almost every Saugus baseball game sporting his No. 51 game jersey.

Sometimes, he helps groom the infield after home games or coaches some of the younger players. Other times he’s just there to shout the occasional, “Atta’ boy.”

No one asked him to do it. He just never had any intentions of running out on the team he had been a part of since his sophomore year.

“Freak things happen, but you play it hard. You keep playing because you never know when things like that could happen,” says Saugus head coach John Maggiora of the injury.

Unless the team’s schedule conflicts with one his therapy sessions, Kerrigan stays fully involved in every facet.

During Saugus’ Spring Break tournament in Anaheim, Kerrigan’s mom made the roughly two-hour drive so he could see the games.

“It’s still my team. I’ve been there for four years,” Kerrigan says. “Even though I can’t play, I still want to be out there.”

Kerrigan’s mom, Dina, also goes to just about every game. She sees no reason why she shouldn’t continue supporting the team.

In a way, it’s a chance for her to get one last glimpse of some of the players her son grew up playing with.

“It’s very difficult,” she says. “He’s worked so hard and we’re so proud of him. It was supposed to be a big year.”

Standing at 6-foot-6, Scott has the natural build for his position. Last year, his first full season on varsity, he made 10 appearances and carried a 3-1 record with a 5.15 ERA.

Colleges didn’t take much notice until summer and fall league last year. Before settling with Notre Dame, Kerrigan also received interest from Duke University, Baylor University and Dartmouth College.

Notre Dame never expressed any intention of pulling his scholarship, and has closely monitored his therapy and progress from the beginning.

At this point, the healing is going well and Kerrigan says he expects to be able to throw again at some point this summer. He should be back to full strength by fall.

The Los Angeles doctor who performed the surgery in late February, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, was recommended by Notre Dame. ElAttrache also serves as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ head team physician and has operated on other high-profile sports figures like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

The doctor has since kept Notre Dame updated on Kerrigan’s status.

Still, the injury couldn’t heal fast enough in Kerrigan’s mind. His situation has given him and players around him a new, more appreciative outlook.

“When you see a kid kind of slacking off and not giving his all, you say, ‘Hey, look at him. He’d give anything to be out here,’” Maggiora says.

For now, the promising Saugus pitcher sits patiently in the dugout among the next possible crop of high school prospects.

Maybe they can learn a thing or two.

“He doesn’t give up at all,” Lombardi says. “Most guys, if they had an injury like that, they could just quit and say, ‘Screw this,” and not show up at all.”

Giving up was out of the question for Kerrigan, who has played baseball in one form or another since he was 5 years old. Whether it was tee ball, travel ball or high school ball, he never knew anything else.

Baseball is his life. He’s not going to let one setback ruin it.

“We’re going to really miss it when we can’t see him play,” Dina says.

Don’t count on that happening anytime soon.

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