Riccardo De Santis, the Italian “Tommy John”

We met up with Riccardo De Santis in Rimini at the Pirates stadium on Saturday the 18th of May when Nettuno was in town for a two game series. That day Riccardo was a little worried about the weather on the horizon, but it didn’t take long to get his attention when we began to speak about the number, 1000.

"Hey how about a smile? Is the down face due to the fact that the foreigners that are arriving these are younger then you?” “Ha!” De Santis replied “Time sure fly’s by, and if I had to go back a couple of years ago I would have never thought that I would have reached the 1000 strike out mark after having suffered the injury to my elbow back in 2007.” What was it like, the feeling and the emotions involved of being sidelined? “Well at the beginning I didn’t know what it was, no did the doctors that were looking at me seeing as if I was the first here in Italy in this sport to have suffered the injury and undergone the surgery. At the beginning it was like having a dead arm, no velocity and the ball seemed to go where ‘it’ wanted to go, which was toped off by little pinching pains in the elbow. I tried to pitch through the soreness and give it my all but I knew something’s was just not correct and well I was right. That year I decided to pull myself from the National teams roster because it made no sense for me to occupy a roster spot if I wasn’t going to be able to perform at the level that I needed to. Sure enough a year later in Godo the wear and tear on my right arm caught up to me as I felt the ulnar ligament pop, the clear sign that my struggles on the mound were the cause of a deeper issue. From there, Dr. Porcellini and I decided that Tommy John surgery was a necessity in order for my career to have the possibility of continuing.”

Ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction is a surgical graft procedure in which the ulnar collateral ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body. The procedure is common among collegiate and professional athletes in several sports, most notably baseball. The procedure was first performed in 1974 by Dr. Frank Jobe and is named after former major league pitcher Tommy John, the first to have undergone operation. Back in ‘74’ Dr. Jobe gave Tommy John a 1 in 100 chance of returning to pitch after the surgery, a percentage that was a little exaggerated seeing as if the Dodger lefty returned to action where he eventually reached 288 career victories. Today the Tommy John Surgery technique has evolved and the percentage of a complete recover has risen to 85%-92% in the United States. What about here in Italy? The Fact was that De Santis was going to be the first to undergo the procedure in the country, an experiment for his benefit and for the benefit of all those in the sport. “Getting me back on the field was not an easy feat, and I will never wish this injury upon anyone. Thanks to Marco Mazieri’s support and all the time that Massimo Baldi spent in rehab with me are the only reasons that I made it back on the field, and for this I’m very thankful.”

Taking a look at the past, when was it that baseball first caught your eye? “It was my grandfather that first introduced me to the sport, and it was his involvement in the game that was the inspiration for me beginning to play back in 1988.” In 2001 you were giving the opportunity to participate in a couple of international tournaments with the Italian National team, what was that like? “Jim Davenport picked me up for both the World Port Tournament, where I got a chance to pitch against Cuba, and the European Championship where I was given the ball against Russia in the semi’s. That game didn’t go so well. However, Davenport gave me the opportunity to grow as a young player with the National team, and that I did. Almost everyone experiences hardships before the good moments arrive, and thanks to Davenport’s courage to put me in there in a game that counted, I was able to build and learn upon what took place. I feel that we can all learn a lesson in regards my situation in terms of giving our youth an opportunity to play ball, especially in hard economic time like today. Just looking at my past alone is proof of a homegrown athlete, a young talent that was given the opportunity to succeed and was able to run with it. I also wanted it, which was another very important factor in the equation. Today you see more and more teams using this philosophy after it had disappeared for a while and this is a great thing for our sport.”

“I’ve been fortunate in my years with this game so far, I’ve had the opportunity to see the world and watch my country grow in this game at the same time. The 2006 World Baseball Classic was an eye opener and I took it as a real complement seeing as if I was one of few Italian born players on the roster. Today Marco Mazzieri has improved the quality of Italian baseball in the eyes of the world since being inserted as the manager of the national team.” Are you speaking about this last WBC? “Ya, what a show it was! Watching the likes of Panerati and Tiago Da Silva take on Triple A and Major League players with the success that they had was is an inspiration to all, and proof that European ballplayers have the capability to compete on the biggest of stages.”

Riccardo, you left Grosseto after their economic problems only to find yourself in a now similar situation in Nettuno… “Well the team’s still alive and this is thanks to the city of Nettuno and the support of all those involved in the organization.” What about your life outside of baseball? Is it different now then what it was? “Lets see, I graduated as a pharmacist and after a little experience working in a pharmacy I’ve now taken on a new role as a sales agent for Chefaro Farma. Currently my territory is Grosseto and Arezzo and I rack up close to 7000 kilometers a month on the road for my job, and this isn’t counting those extra hours on the road for baseball which add up very quickly themselves seeing as if even the home games are a road trip me. It’s easy to say that my life when it comes to baseball is very different now then when all I had to worry about was playing. Even with this said and the extra sacrifices that need to be made for me to continue to be able to play I just can’t give this sport up. Even when my playing days are through, I would still like to be given the opportunity to have a hand in baseball as a coach. It would be great to be able to be involved in a serious program where I have an opportunity to help grow the game that I love in the county where I was born and raised.”