NEW HAVEN — Tyler Criscuolo, his nose a little crooked and his head held high, led his family onto the field Wednesday. This was Senior Day at Southern Connecticut, and anyone close to the Owls baseball program knows what the senior captain has endured this season.
Criscuolo collided with teammate Mike DeMartino on March 8 in a game against Concordia in Lake Worth, Fla., and what he first thought was a broken nose proved to be 14 facial fractures. A jaw and nose would need to be rebuilt. A damaged eye socket would need to heal. By any medical measure, this was a horrible injury.
“And I didn’t touch the surface of what my mom has been through,” Criscuolo said.
Yes, this was a spring day that would end with a 3-1 victory over St. Rose and with coach Tim Shea breaking the program record with the 467th victory over his Southern career. Emotions were high. History was made.
This also was a spring day that would start with a victory for the Criscuolo family. Emotions were high. A piece of family history also was made.
“This is it,” Trish Criscuolo said. “Tyler’s the baby. This is a big deal for us. I’m just trying to make it through without bawling. To see your kids succeed at something, to play a Division II sport, maintain good grades, it’s hard work. It’s so emotional.”
With that Trish joined her sons Gary and Jordan and Tyler’s dad, Gary. She carried a bouquet of flowers. Tyler held his framed uniform. Along with the other seniors, the Criscuolo family posed for pictures. And then Trish walked back to the stands, a slight limp, the most beautiful limp in the world.
She was alive.
This is what Trish remembers about Nov. 4, 2018 . A fitness nut, she’d work out seven days a week. It was Sunday morning around eight o’clock, nice outside, so she decided to leave her Branford home and bike to Planet Fitness.
This is what Trish was told about Nov. 4. A white pickup truck came off Exit 55 and smashed into her on East Main Street. She went flying into the air and landed brutally. Th e driver swerved around her and took off. A hit and run.
“Thank God, the guy behind me stopped, called 911 and basically saved my life,” she said. “The ambulance came, scooped me up and rushed me to the ER at Yale. I just learned something new. One of the policemen on the scene, I didn’t have my ID on me I guess, and identified me.”
The family rushed to the hospital.
Trish would need six operations in four days. There was a cranial fracture leading to a broken neck. There were 11 broken ribs. Her left arm was snapped at the elbow requiring a plate with six screws. And, yes, she is left handed. Her vertebra was snapped from the pelvic area and that needed to be fused. She smashed her pelvis. A fixator was inserted for six weeks. She ruptured her bladder.
“I woke up a solid week later,” Trish said. “I was in the hospital and I had no idea.”
As awful as Tyler’s baseball injury was, he’s right. He was a distant second in terms of family trauma.
Trish was at Yale for a month. She went to Gaylord for another month, where she initially had to be hoisted out of bed and into a wheelchair for rehabilitation. She didn’t walk for seven and a half weeks. The third week of December she had surgery to remove the fixator from her pelvis. She was finally discharged Jan. 5.
“It has been a really, really, really tough six months for our whole family,” Tyler said. “With everything she has been through, we try to be by her side, whatever she needs. It has been very tough to see. This is my mother.”
The truck that hit Trish was found in a wooded section of Hamden, and late in December Stephen Irish of North Haven, its operator, was arrested.
“The injuries she sustained, the way she has bounced back, fought for everything,” Tyler said. “There were a lot of questions if she would be able to do this or able to do that. She has proven a lot of people wrong, especially with the timetable. She went through things a lot quicker than people expected.”
There was in-home therapy and Trish has graduated to out-patient physical therapy three times a week.
“I’m fighting it,” Trish said. “I’m trying to regain my strength and my mind — and then my son goes and has an accident. It has been crazy. We’ve rallied. We have a really good family and have had great support. People have been incredible. People we don’t even know.”
Yes, this is a brave woman.
And a resilient family.
A family that would be tested again.
Running through the litany of injuries and her story, Trish Criscuolo’s voice is strong. Yet when it came to the events of March 4, she says, “I don’t want to talk about it.” It’s another matter when the pain is your baby’s. She takes a deep breath, reconsiders and goes, “OK.”
The Owls were in Florida for 10 games over spring break. The Criscuolos were driving down from Connecticut. Gary, Gary, Jordan, Trish, four of them. They’d crossed over the Georgia line into Florida, but they’d miss that first game against Concordia. Still, there would be a slew more of games. That’s when the cell rang.
“Two hours before we got there, we got a call that Tyler had a collision with a teammate and is in the hospital,” Trish said. “We were stunned.”
Tyler was transported to the trauma center at Delray Medical Center. His senior season of college? It appeared to be lost. The baseball player, the hockey player, the kid out of Branford was tough, but it looked like he might never swing a bat again.
Tyler also wasn’t allowed to fly home. The Criscuolos had an unexpected passenger on the way back to Connecticut.
That wasn’t nearly as unexpected as what happened next. Jim Fuller of Hearst Connecticut Media told Tyler’s story a few weeks ago and it is certainly worth the read. When he returned home he visited a number of specialists. A maxillofacial doctor went to work on him. His jaw was wired shut. His face was stitched up every which way. His nose was splinted. Tyler returned to the doctors a week later and got shocking news. He could return to the field.
“We couldn’t believe he could play,” Trish said. “We were shocked. And I was so happy for my son. It had been devastating. You play all the way up to being a senior captain and to have it end like that? It really stunk. But incredible things happen. There’s good in everything. And people are awesome. They really are.”
Only 28 days after having his face shattered, Tyler returned to the field and just kept hitting. He is leading the Owls with a .375 avaerage. His teammate, senior shortstop Jimmy Palmer, has called the return miraculous.
“It has been crazy what that family has had to go through,” Shea said. “But everybody is starting to heal a little bit. It’s a remarkable story.”
“The road back wasn’t easy,” Tyler said. “I’m blessed just to be able to be on the field and thankful for everyone’s support.”
His mind drifts to a real miracle.
“My mom is inspiration to me,” he said softly. “And to everyone around her.”
Trish will arrive in the fifth inning of some games. It’s chilly. It’s hard for her to sit. She does the best she can.
On this special day, her son’s Senior Day, she arrived early. The walk on the field, a family doesn’t forget something like that.
“We’ve been teetering between do we have really good luck or really bad luck?” Tyler said. “I’d like to think we have good luck. We made it through. Everyone is in one piece — sort of. I’d like to think we’re a tough family, that we’re very resilient. And it starts from my parents down.”