08/14/12 8:00pm
08/14/2012 8:00 PM

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Joe Crosser, shown playing for Bishop McGann-Mercy this past spring, has recovered from a horrific ankle injury.

To spectators who didn’t know better, it wasn’t anything special, just a typical baseball play, the sort that can happen several times a game. But to Joe Crosser, it was a major step forward in his recovery as a baseball player.

Crosser was a baserunner at first base when a teammate hit a ground ball toward second base. The thought that crossed Crosser’s mind?

“Uh-oh.”

What is a routine play for most players had become anything but routine for Crosser, who has made a comeback from a horrific ankle injury, the result of an unfortunate slide on the basepaths. So, when Crosser was called upon to break up a double play by sliding into second base for the first time since the injury, it was time for him to overcome his fear of reinjuring the ankle.

Crosser slid into second and was called out on a forceout. He rose to his feet, no worse for wear. “I ended up sliding, and everything worked out,” he said. “It was kind of like a leap of faith.”

The last time Crosser slid on a baseball diamond, things didn’t work out well for him, and that is a major understatement. His senior season and high school career came to an end during a Bishop McGann-Mercy practice on April 19. Crosser was sliding into third base when the front two spikes on his metal cleats got caught in the dirt. His right ankle snapped sideways in an awkward manner, dislocating the ankle and breaking a few bones.

“I heard what I thought was a pop, a crack,” said Crosser, a middle infielder/pitcher.

Monarchs coach Ed Meier called it the worst thing he had ever seen.

Morphine was administered on the field to Crosser, who said Meier prevented him from looking at his own ankle. “I knew something was wrong the way everybody reacted the way they saw it,” said Crosser.

Several days later, Crosser was operated on by Dr. John Brennan at Peconic Bay Medical Center. Crosser said a metal plate was inserted into the right side of his leg, and screws were attached alongside the plate. Altogether, 13 screws were used.

Crosser said that while in the Riverhead hospital, which is next door to Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School, he received tremendous support from players, coaches, teachers and classmates.

“I was told that teachers were starting class with a prayer for me,” said Crosser, who saw a corner of McGann-Mercy’s baseball field and most of the school from his hospital room. “I don’t think anybody would expect that kind of reaction to it.”

After 13 days in the hospital, Crosser returned to his Cutchogue home, wearing a soft cast. Two weeks later, he was back in school, with a hard cast. After three weeks in a hard cast, he used an air cast and a walking boot. He then got to the point where, moving about with the aid of crutches, he could apply a little pressure on his right foot. That led to three weeks of physical therapy.

“Now it feels great,” he said.

One week after the completion of his physical therapy, Crosser went on a 120-mile bike trip. Two weeks ago he played for a North Fork summer league team in his first baseball game since the injury. “I didn’t do that well, but just the fact that I was back out there felt amazing,” he said.

What affect has the traumatic injury had on Crosser’s baseball-playing ability?

“As far as I can tell, it doesn’t really change anything,” he said. “I can still run. I can still cut. I can still do all the things I need to do.”

The injury did complicate Crosser’s college planning somewhat; he didn’t get to visit a couple of schools that he wanted to see. His plan is to attend C.W. Post and possibly try out for its baseball team.

Crosser, 18, said what happened to him was something of a freak injury. “It’s not something you see every day in baseball,” he said. He said he also could have slid “a little more carefully.”

Crosser said that for a while he felt sorry for himself, but he has learned to be thankful for what he has. He has also learned that there is life after injury, even as bad an injury as the one he had.

“You just got to make the best out of your situation,” he said. “I thought it was the end of the world for me. Time heals all.”

bliepa@timesreview.com