Back in 2010, Barrington Hills resident Don Gragnani suffered an injury that stops all baseball players in their tracks.
In the second game of that season as a member of the Algonquin Bats team that plays in the Northern Illinois Men's Baseball League (50 years and older division), Gragnani attempted to throw a runner out at second from his catching position.
Meet the Algonquin BatsAlgonquin: Earl Blankenship, Tony Blankenship, Rich Skibski
Antioch: Bill Beckett
Barrington Hills: Don Gragnani
Bartlett: Jeff McClellan, Ron Skrabacz
Crystal Lake: Bill Quoss
Hainesville: Bob Gurchak
Lake in the Hills: Mike Hareng, Kevin Molbeck,
Lake Villa: John Moulchin
Lake Zurich: John Reincke
McHenry: Tony Di Blasi
Palatine: Denny Prosperi
Round Lake: Mike Steffy
East Troy, Wisconsin: Matt Weiss
That throw ended his season.
"I tore my rotator cuff," he said. "I couldn't throw the ball back to the pitcher after that. I was done for the year."
Gragnani, though, didn't let rotator cuff surgery deter him one bit.
In fact, he's come back stronger than ever, amassing an ironman streak that is impressive at any level of the game, let alone on the local men's senior baseball circuit.
Gragnani has caught every inning of the team's last 99 games. On Sunday, May 21, in Woodstock he is scheduled to catch his 100th game in a row. If that game is rained out, that will push Don's 100th game back to May 28 in Wauconda.
"As long as I'm able to do this, I'm going to keep doing it," he said. "I do get tired, yeah. I'll be 62 years old in October and sometimes we're playing in 90- and 95-degree heat and playing doubleheaders on hot days. I can lose 10 pounds in one day depending on the weather. That's all water loss. After a few beers that all comes back."
Ron Skrabacz of Bartlett, one of the Bats managers, said Gragnani's streak is, indeed, significant.
"Catching is the toughest position to fill in our 50s division and we have used only one since 2011 thanks to Don's durability," he said.
Skrabacz noted the first 99 games of the streak covered 629 innings and an amazing 3,723 batters.
"During those years we have played between 16 and 18 games per season, mainly on Sundays," he said. "His record also includes 8 doubleheaders (7-inning games) in which he caught both ends."
Gragnani, a left-handed catcher, won the team's MVP award in 2012, 2014 and last season.
"While Don is a very good defensive catcher and calls a good game, he is no slouch at the plate either," Skrabacz pointed out.
In those first 98 games, Gragnani batted .386 with 105 hits, including 18 doubles and 9 triples.
"Do you know how rare triples are in an over-50 league?" Skrabacz asked. "He has nine. Actually he has 10, but hit one before his streak began. To put it in perspective, since 2004 our team has hit 25 triples in 205 games and Don has 10 of them."
Gragnani has no qualms about strapping on the catchers gear during games.
"First of all, we don't have anybody else who could catch on a regular basis," he said. "We were pressed a little bit. Second, I love it. It's a heck of a workout. As long as I'm playing, I'm going to keep doing it."
Gragnani, a graduate of Gordon Tech High School in Chicago who also at one point lived in Algonquin, first got the bug to play at the adult level while coaching one of his sons when his family lived in west-suburban Berkeley.
"The dads would play catch after the kids' game and the next thing you know we have 10 or 20 people out there," he said. "So we said, 'Let's have a game on Sunday.' Our wives brought food and we played pickup games. That led to joining a league."
Gragnani lauded the work of Dr. William Cox of McHenry County Orthopedics for surgically repairing his shoulder.
"Dr. Cox did a good job," he said. "After the operation, the first guy I threw out at second, I saved the ball and put it in a case with a note on it and gave it to Dr. Cox. My physical therapist got the second ball."
Gragnani added his ironman streak would not be possible without the support of his wife, Donna.
"Over the years I've seen some guys' wives give them a hard time about playing," he said. "Donna has been perfect about it. She knows it's good for me. She's been great."
Gragnani moved to Algonquin in 1990 and eventually hooked up with the Bats, who were known as the Diamondbacks at the time. He moved to Barrington Hills in 2012. He's equally effusive in his praise of the guys he goes to battle with every Sunday during the season.
"It's a good bunch of guys here," said Gragnani, who also plays in a recreation football league in his spare time. "We don't have the best team by any means, but we have the best bunch of guys. It's all about the camaraderie. If it was about wins or losses, forget it. I'd be out of there. After games we'll get together and have beers and a few guys get together once a month and play cards. It's so much fun.
"We don't get paid. We love to play and we try to win, but at the end of the day, just by participating you are a winner. We are 50- and 60-year-olds and us being out there is a good thing. It's like being in Little League again."