The Game of Life: To Michael Romagnuolo, Playing Little League Is Fulfilling a Dream
After 10 Surgeries in 11 Years, Little Leaguer Relishes Chance to Be a Part of the Team
Michael Romagnuolo is a league-age 11-year-old playing Little League in Dongan Hills, Staten Island, N.Y. He’s a good hitter and decent outfielder, but there’s nothing typical about his time on field.
Born in November 1998 with Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS), Michael has only four fingers on his right hand, which were re-constructed through surgery, half of a left foot with no toes, and his left leg is shorter than his right leg.
Amniotic Band Syndrome, also called Amniotic Constriction Band Syndrome,is a set of congenital birth defects believed to be caused by entrapment of fetal parts (usually a limb or digits) in fibrous amniotic bands while in utero. In other words, before Michael was born his left leg and right hand were entangled in string-like bands. This caused abnormalities that were present at birth.
More information on Michael’s story is available here: http://www.amnioticbandsyndrome.com/michaels-story-p-45.html
Since his birth, Michael has undergone 10 surgeries. At the age of eight, surgery was performed to stretch his left leg and correct other related physical abnormalities. Regardless of his body’s limitations, he has a love of baseball and wanted to play as soon as he was old enough.
“I was afraid the league would turn him down, but Staten Island Little League accepted him with open arms,” Maria Romagnuolo, Michael’s legal guardian and Little League team mom, said. “He’s had surgery to lengthen his leg, so he hasn’t been able to play every year. When he couldn’t play, the league still gave him a uniform and he served as bat boy and learned to keep score.”
When Michael was five, he was confined to a motorized scooter. Regardless, his parents signed him up for Tee Ball in the Staten Island Little League, and to the league’s credit, he played on a regular season team.
Staten Island Little League does not offer a Challenger Division team for players with physical and mental disabilities, yet Michael was able to continue playing when he wasn’t recovering from surgery. Playing through Tee Ball and the Minor Division, he now is playing Major Division baseball with his twin brother, Joseph.
Wendy Romagnuolo, middle, and her twin 11-year-old sons Michael, left, and Joseph have been members of Staten Island Little League in Dongan Hills, N.Y. for several years. Maria has been team mom for Michael and Joseph’s team. What makes Little League so special to the Romangnuolo family is what it has taken for Michael to gain the ability to enjoy the Little League experience. Born in November 1998 with Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS), Michael has only four fingers on his right hand, which were re-constructed through surgery, half of a left foot with no toes, and his left leg is shorter than his right leg. He has endured several limb-stretching surgeries which limited is ability to play Little League. With the support of his family and league, Michael has stayed involved and this year enjoyed the opportunity to play. According to his mom, “He’s a miracle boy, but when he’s out there, he shows he’s no different than anyone else.”
“Michael and Joseph are die-hard baseball fans and we are so thankful for Little League allowing Michael to play with his disability,” Maria said. “Joseph is a pitcher and shortstop, and Michael plays the outfield, but there is no competition there, because they know together they can succeed.
“Our family always wanted to make sure Michael was no different than anyone else,” Maria, who made the decision to sign Michael up for Tee Ball six years ago, said. “If it wasn’t for Little League, I don’t know where Michael would be with his disability. He enjoys playing … being a part of the team brings out his true colors.”
The Staten Island Little League Board of Directors worked with Maria and Michael’s birth mom, Wendy Romagnuolo, to allow him to play.
Following his latest surgery, Michael was fitted with special baseball shoes that would allow him to run and play in the field. According to Maria, the league made the decision that if he could run the bases he could play in regular season games.
“When it comes to hitting the ball, he can hold the bat and hit the ball so hard,” Maria said. “He is a good hitter. It’s amazing.”
This past season, Michael tried his hand at pitching and even was considered for the Staten Island Little League All-Star Team. His brother made the tournament team and even though Michael was not selected he and his family were at each game to support him.
More surgeries lie ahead. Each leg-lengthening surgery is intended to stretch Michael’s left leg an additional four inches. The procedure involves breaking Michael’s leg and re-setting it using pins and rods.
“Playing Little League is Michael’s passion and he loves baseball,” Maria said. “He’s a miracle boy, but when he’s out there, he shows he’s no different than anyone else. His teammates root for Michael. As a parent, I see it as an amazing thing, because the more they accept him the more comfortable he feels.”
Michael and his brother have one more season at the Little League level and both are looking forward to the 2011 season. Future consultation with his physician Dr.Barbara Minkowitz, who has been Michael’s Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon since birth, will decide when his next surgery will take place. To date, she has reconstructed his leg and given him his length.
Regardless of what lies ahead for Michael and the Romagnuolos, Maria is thankful for the opportunity that Little League afforded him.
“Our thanks to the Staten Island Little League, Coach Kevin Galyas, Coach Max Pena, and all the rest of the coaches who have given Michael a chance to play,” Maria said. “Our league letting Michael play sends a message to both my boys that it’s OK to be a little different.”