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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Softball player critically injured at gay tournament in Las Vegas
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2015-01-22

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A San Diego man was seriously injured at a gay softball tournament in Las Vegas on Jan. 18. Mike Petracca is slowly improving—and was downgraded on Jan. 22 from critical to stable condition and moved into a private room at University Medical Center from the ICU—as the LGBT community rallies around him. He returned to San Diego Jan. 23.

Petracca, 28, who is openly gay and lives and works in Carlsbad, California, was participating in the 8th annual Sin City Shootout—a multi-day event that attracted about 7,500 participants for 18 sports. He was between fields with his teammates—including former Chicago resident Chuck Jacobson, who now lives in San Diego—awaiting their next game after already having played two. They were watching a C-Division team from Chicago, the Chicago Havoc, which was playing.

Petracca was struck in the head with an aluminum softball bat that had been accidentally released during a batter's swing on a nearby field. The bat flew nearly 40 feet and hit Petracca on the left temple area. He immediately collapsed, striking his head on the ground.

"It is the very definition of a freak accident, as bats rarely leave a batter's hands in softball and no one at the fields could ever recall seeing a bat leave the field of play, let alone strike another person," said Brian Burnett, a teammate of Petracca's, who created a GoFundMe webpage for Petracca's mounting medical expenses.

In one day, more than $26,000 had been raised.

"I heard a clunk [when the bat struck Petracca], the bat [hitting the ground] and a lot of noise, a lot of screaming," said Anthony Miceli, 49, of Chicago, who was in the Havoc dugout at the time as his team was batting. "I turned around and saw [Petracca] go down and hit his head, and immediately jumped out of the dugout.

"It was the craziest thing I've ever seen; I couldn't believe it."

Miceli said blood was "literally squirting out of his head," so he immediately applied pressure to Petracca's head. Miceli and others talked to Petracca and tried to keep him calm as they awaited medical personnel to arrive.

Petracca suffered a skull fracture and swelling of the brain. He had immediate brain surgery to relieve the swelling and repair the fracture, and the MRI results showed some damage to the left side of the brain where the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes meet, specifically Broca's area, according to Burnett. "This is the part of the brain for speech production," Burnett said. "At this time, he is unable to talk clearly; he comprehends and wants to talk, but can't get the words out.

"This isn't something that can be fixed with surgery or other medical procedures, so we'll have to see how it heals with time and therapy. He also has right side muscle weakness/lack of control that will hopefully get better with time, and he has some lower facial paralysis, [which] will hopefully heal when the swelling subsides as well."

Petracca's dad, Michael, said by phone on Jan. 22 that his son is "really frustrated; he seems a little bit defeated. He knows what happened, somewhat."

The elder Petracca said his son's long-term prognosis "is going to be a fight."

"His speech is either going to go from no improvement to full speech. We don't know yet [what it will be]; it's just a matter of time, and he's aware of that; we told him that.

"This is really hard; it's a roller coaster [of emotions]," the elder Petracca added. "It's two steps forward, one step backwards here and there. He's in so much pain; his head is throbbing like you can't believe."

Petracca returned to San Diego, where he will go directly into a managed care facility to make sure he's stabilized and further tend to his care, Burnett said.

Petracca works as a server at the Tin Leaf Fresh Kitchen. He is a diehard San Diego Padres fan, and his dad tagged him as a "baseball encyclopedia, especially about the Padres." Petracca played Little League Baseball, then soccer in high school and he has played gay softball for about five years. Petracca has two sisters, one older and one younger.

"While insurance will certainly cover a large portion of these immediate expenses, the road ahead could be a long and arduous one, with a lot of therapy," Burnett said. "The long-term outlook for how much of that can or will be covered is much less clear. Mike deserves the best possible care going forward and we are determined to smooth the road ahead as much as possible. Thus, any contributions made to this fundraising effort will be forwarded to Mike's trust account, where non-covered costs related to his care and recovery will be the only priority."

Medical expenses are expected to exceed $1 million, his dad said.

The LGBT community, not just the softball world, has stepped up, rallied behind Petracca and is wildly sharing his story to aide his medical bills.

"The outpouring of emotion from his communities—meaning, our community of family and friends, the softball community, the LGBT community, and others—I can't even begin to explain or express my appreciation, both financially, plus love and support."

Michael Erwin, the president of the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ) who was in Las Vegas for the tournament, posted news about Petracca on Facebook and tagged it, "such a sad story."

Jack Neilsen, the commissioner of CMSA's open Sunday softball division, is a board member for the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance ( NAGAAA ), which runs the annual Gay Softball World Series. The Sin City Shootout is the annual tournament hosted by the Greater Los Angeles Softball Association ( GLASA ).

"I am deeply saddened by the tragic freak accident," Neilsen said. "Although I did not know Mike personally, he is part of our N.A.G.A.A.A. Family. It's overwhelming to see the outpouring of support, both financial and emotional, for Mike and his family while they are going through this horrific time. On behalf of CMSA Open Sunday Softball would like to extend our thoughts to everyone. We look forward to the day that we can give Mike the high-five on the field and welcome him home to his softball family again. Godspeed Mike."

To support Petracca's mounting medical bills, go to: www.gofundme.com/mikepetracca .


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