Nearly losing an ear will make you lose your passion for baseball.
Not Lake Zurich senior Joey Pizzolato, a college-bound baseball player who also plays hockey. His love of the latter sport might explain his toughness.
"We take hits in hockey, but we don't take as many hits in baseball," said Pizzolato, a left winger who's playing his fourth season of varsity hockey for the high school club. "If someone gets injured in baseball, usually it's either somebody getting cleated at second base or a collision with a runner going home."
Pizzolato's freak baseball injury this past summer came out of left field -- or the left side of the infield, actually. His recent decision to give a verbal commitment to the College of San Mateo, one of the best junior college baseball programs in the country, went as planned.
Pizzolato will sign a national letter of intent in November to play shortstop for CSM's Bulldogs, whose alumni include current big-leaguer Scott Feldman and former major leaguers Keith Hernandez and John Wetteland. San Mateo is located between San Francisco and San Jose in sunny California.
San Mateo assistant coach Bryan Faulds recruited Pizzolato, who hit .306 with 5 doubles and a triple and boasted a 398 on-base percentage in his second varsity season for Lake Zurich's Bears last spring. Faulds pitched for San Mateo before transferring to Western Illinois, where, as a senior, he was a teammate of Brock Simon, who's the son of Lake Zurich baseball coach Gary Simon.
"So he was familiar with this area," Pizzolato said of Faulds. "He knew coaches out here who knew me and had seen me play in the Stevenson showcase and other showcase tournaments. He asked people around here, 'Do you know this Joey Pizzolato kid from Lake Zurich High School? He's the shortstop.' He got a lot of information from them. And then on my part, I had a teacher that I'm really close with call (Faulds). One of my hockey coaches called (as well), and (talked about) my character and background. I gave him tons of references and they all reached out to him. I called him on a daily basis."
That Pizzolato could hold a phone to his ear was encouraging.
In the middle of July, on a red-hot day Georgia, Pizzolato and his Schaumburg Seminoles travel baseball team were playing a tournament game. Pizzolato was patrolling third base when a batter hit a routine groundball in the hole. Only there was nothing routine about his grounder.
Pizzolato ranged to his left. The shortstop ranged to his right.
A baseball infield suddenly became a collision course.
"We never saw each other," said Pizzolato, solidly built a 6 feet and 180 pounds. "His shoulder hit my jaw, my head and my ear."
Cartilage dangled from the left ear of a woozy Pizzolato.
"When he hit me, I went down and I was bleeding from my ear so I knew something was happening," Pizzolato said. "They thought I had a concussion. It was like 110 degrees on top of it."
Pizzolato's jaw was fractured. It took 12 stitches to sew up his ear. He flew home the next day and hung up his spikes for the rest of the summer.
The Seminoles' shortstop walked away basically unscathed.
"He was OK because he got it in the shoulder," Pizzolato said. "I got the worst part of it."
Pizzolato is back playing baseball, fall-ball style, and skating. He's feeling well.
That -- and a future at CSM -- is the good part of it.