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John Silingo, Arizona MSBL: Thankful to Be Alive

By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

Now and again I run across a story that transcends the normal baseball routines and speaks of life and thankfulness.  Arizona MSBL co-president, MSBL Hall of Fame member and Lifetime Achievement Award winner John Silingo died on the field in 2013 while pitching.  He was brought back to life by quick thinking friends and lived to tell the tale.  

I am usually the editor of most of what comes across my desk but there are those occasions where the story needs to be told in their own words, unedited.  This is one of those stories.  John explains his brush with the hereafter as only a person who has gone through it can.  It’s a tad lengthy but it needs to be.  This isn’t your traditional ‘who, what, when where and why’ post, it is emotional.  Thank you, John, for sharing this and God’s speed as your baseball career and zest for life move forward.  In John's own words:

Submitted by John Silingo, Arizona MSBL co-president

My day was September 3, 2013. We were scheduled at Goodyear Complex that evening, the second to last game of the season. The game had more importance to our team as we were attempting to stay out of last place. Our opponent, the Diamondbacks, on the other hand, had a lock on first place. I stopped by co-league president Lou McAnany's that morning to discuss league business. It was then that he told me that the Dbacks would be short players and ready to forfeit, but he had told them he'd found two substitutes.

Later that evening we started the game against the Dbacks with their eight and one substitute – enough to play the game. I started on the hill and as things were moving along I received a call from our chief umpire. He delivered the news that a team on a field next to us had just forfeited their game when one of the players was seen urinating on the field. Difficult to believe? I schedule the games, procure and negotiate for the fields and work closely with the officials. After receiving calls earlier during the season from an irate manager of Municipal Stadium, this final warning was issued: "If one more guy urinates in my dugouts we'll void your permit”.

It was with two outs in the bottom of sixth when we got a ground ball to the right side and I naturally started in that direction to cover first if needed. The infielders made the play so I turned and started for our third base dugout. Approaching the mound my legs began feeling 'rubbery' and in what was probably not more than two seconds thoughts passed through my head. Dehydration? I've played, pitching and catching three hours during day games in the desert sun and never had a problem. It is a warm, humid evening but, not enough to faint. All these thoughts as it went black from left to right and at then at the same moment feeling the dirt with my fingertips.

Lou happened to be on another field next to our game. Someone got his attention and brought him over. He had the task of calling my wife, Kelly, to tell her that I'd been hurt. She told Lou to have me brought to the Phoenix hospital where she was employed. In response to Lou telling the EMT's Kelly's wishes, she heard an EMT yell back, "We don't have time, we're taking him to nearest facility”. At that point tough guy Lou couldn't talk and handed the phone over to his wife. Kelly then realized that it was more than a broken bone.

The last batted out in the sixth was Ken Fleisch. Ken is an ER doc, works nights and had just recently started working the ER for the hospital in Payson. He drove from his home in Cave Creek, a far north and east city, a long distance to the far west city of Goodyear to play. All this for a relatively meaningless game that was at risk of being forfeited.

After seeing me go down Ken was on me immediately and started CPR. Two players, one an EMT and the other a chiropractor, offered to relieve him but he refused. From accounts of those present, twice Ken said that he got pulse while waiting for the city's fire department.

The fire department was probably no more than two miles down the road and 12 minutes from the time I dropped 'til the time that the paddles were used on me. It took two or three hits before the heart began beating.

In 27 years and about 800 games seldom was there even one person who came to see me. We had all eight fields this night and more than 150 people at the complex. Most all those 150 stopped by to see me which has allowed me to brag that one game I had 150 come to see me on the field.

The odds of survival is 7%. With a defibrillator immediately available the odds go up to 39%.  Odds go to zero within three to five minutes without one.

This episode resulted in quadruple heart bypass surgery as two arteries were 99% blocked and two were 50–85%. This from a 67 year old with LOW blood pressure who played 45 games a year.

How about Ken being at the game? A 60 mile drive from his home to a game of no real relevance.  The fire station only a couple miles away! Most of the doctors and nurses who attended to me in the hospital were all amazed that there were no apparent negative affects – physical, speech or mental. Of course those who know me say that they wouldn't know if there was any mental damage done or not!

I mentioned earlier about the player relieving himself on the field. This, I tell people is the real cause of my heart attack.

Two months after the incident on the field during the World Series, Steve Sigler presented Lou and me with our Lifetime Achievement Awards. I originally planned to be manager/player and was relegated to the bench until the last game. Then a perfect situation arose. I turned to my doctor and shortstop Ken Fleisch to ask if it would be OK to bat. He asked how I felt and when I said, "OK”, he said to go for it.

Two years before, my wife, Kelly, was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer. As I was recovering, and since, I have lamented to a few what an ideal way of permanent departure I could have made - on the ball field, having pitched one of my better games that year and getting the win against number one. All to whom I've made that comment have said, "Kelly will need you”. They were right. It was a selfish comment. Kelly passed May 6, 2016. And she did need me.

In July of 2015 I had a little stroke. Compared to my near brush with death, this little bitty stroke has done more to limit my ability to continue and compete in the game. This stroke, caused by a heart defect, apparently and totally was unrelated to the heart attack.

I tend to analogize everything to baseball. That's two strikes...ya think?

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