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Pirates' radio host lucky to be alive

| Friday, Aug. 3, 2007

"It wasn't like blood you see on your finger," Rocco DeMaro explained. "It was dark blood. Scary blood."

And it was gushing from DeMaro's left ear.

The 29-year-old Green Tree resident, host of the Pirates' "Extra Innings" postgame show on WPGB (104.7), had been struck in the temple with a softball as he ran out a grounder.

He was safe, as he's quick to tell you, but that was the end of the good news in this men's league game July 1 in Robinson.

The first baseman whiffed on the shortstop's throw. DeMaro, like most recreational softball players, was not wearing a helmet.

Dark blood wasn't the only sign of trouble, either. The voices around DeMaro were garbled, and he couldn't form a word. He vomited on the ambulance ride to Allegheny General.

Somehow, he never lost consciousness.

"I kept telling myself, 'Take deep breaths, stay composed, you're going to a good hospital,' " he said.

Turned out he had five skull fractures, a concussion and a hole in his ear drum. A titanium plate was inserted into his skull during a two-hour procedure.

Once out of danger, DeMaro faced a new set of concerns. He'd suffered a traumatic injury to the left side -- the language-dominant side -- of his brain.

When his eight-day hospital stay ended, he still could barely communicate. He feared for his career.

"He'd want to say something like, 'Breakfast,' and couldn't," said Missy DeMaro, Rocco's wife of four months. "You'd have to look him right in the eye and say, 'Breakfast,' and he'd try it until he could finally pronounce it."

At HealthSouth Harmarville Rehab, DeMaro's therapist told him he had a language disorder called aphasia. There was no telling if his condition would improve.

It did, in miraculous fashion.

"I've been doing this for 23 years," says Janice Pivik-Bowser, a speech/language pathologist at HealthSouth, "and he is having one of the nicest recoveries I've seen."

Listen to him now, and you'd never know the gregarious DeMaro was so badly injured. The only obvious remnant is the horseshoe-shaped scar on the left side of his head -- the one that required 50 staples to close. He will need more surgery in a few weeks.

In the meantime, he is battling fatigue and feverishly working to get his reading and writing skills up to par.

DeMaro has a hard time expressing his gratitude to the Pirates, but not because of any language difficulty.

Rather, their response overwhelmed him.

Two days after the injury, broadcaster Lanny Frattare visited the hospital and gave DeMaro a ball autographed by players. When DeMaro arrived home, two messages from general manager Dave Littlefield were waiting for him.

On Thursday, the Pirates declared their game against St. Louis "Rooting for Rocco Day." Fans who bought seats in certain sections could earmark $5 of the purchase price to help with the massive medical bills. DeMaro is an independent contractor with WPGB and thus does not have full benefits.

DeMaro's goal is to return to work Sept. 1. That might be optimistic, but signs are good. In chatting with a reporter, he mentioned he and his wife have been together six years.

Missy figured five, but then said, "No, you're right, it is six."

DeMaro laughed.

"Brain's back," he said.

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