Ellen Sciambra no longer grimaces when her son races to catch a line drive or back pedals for a pop fly.
It’s been three years since Chris Sciambra barreled into an outfield wall and broke his neck. She’s had more than enough time to overcome any lingering fear that the one-in-a-million accident will reoccur.
But why would she put herself through this? How could she allow her son to return to the sport?
She’s been asked that a time or two.
“That’s not my choice,” she answers back. “This is his life. I couldn’t pull his dream away from him.”
And now look at him. Chris Sciambra is back living the dream — an everyday starter for LSU this deep into a season for the first time since cracking the first vertebrae in his neck as a freshman in 2012.
Heading into LSU’s game Tuesday night against UNO, Sciambra had the fourth-best average (.340) on a squad that ranks second nationally in the category (.322). He’s in his third week of being in the Tigers’ daily lineup — mostly as a leadoff designated hitter.
The senior had four hits in one game earlier this season, has the ability to play the outfield if needed and, in just 50 at-bats, has five of the team’s conference-leading 121 extra-base hits.
So, as LSU (27-5, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) tunes up for a three-game series this weekend against Auburn (19-13, 4-8), Sciambra finds himself an integral part of this team for the first time since that scary injury at Auburn.
“Full circle,” his mother says.
“He’s waited his turn,” LSU assistant Will Davis said. “Now, he’s back.”
Crashing into that wall ended Sciambra’s promising rookie year. It derailed a potential all-star career, and it could have been so much worse, too.
Chasing a fly ball in the left-center gap, Sciambra lunged and came down on his butt — his head then banging against the wall at Auburn’s Plainsman Park. It left a fracture in the top-most vertebrae in his neck (C1) just below the skull.
The vertebrae didn’t move or break into pieces. If it had?
“That’s when people get paralyzed,” Sciambra said.
“I still think about it. I remember it,” he said. “I know I’m really blessed to still be playing and walking around.”
The tale of his recovery is an old one. Sciambra flew to Baton Rouge on Auburn’s private jet after the injury and wore a neck brace for three months as the bone healed.
Davis visited Sciambra a few days after the injury. The image is burned into the coach’s mind: Sciambra, neck brace on, sitting at the end of his parents’ dining room table.
“It was so sad,” Davis said.
He needed another few months of rehab after his time in the brace. He regained his starting job to begin the 2013 season before losing it to speedy center fielder Andrew Stevenson.
He’s never really been back — until now. Coach Paul Mainieri gave him a shot at designated hitter in Game 2 at Arkansas on March 20, and Sciambra has started all but one game since.
Now comes the part of keeping his starting spot. As a designated hitter, he’s in there for one, real purpose.
“I do have to hit,” he said. “I’m not going to put pressure on myself. I’m going to go out and play. The worse thing that will happen is I’ll go back to being the role that I was before on the team.”
That’s not too bad seeing as though Sciambra survived two — not just one — injury hurdle over the past half-decade.
Doctors had to remove Sciambra’s top-most rib to relieve a blood clot as a junior in high school. There was a chance that the surgery to break up the clot could have ended in a seizure.
“He’s trying to kill me, I think,” Ellen said with a laugh. “I told God he was done with all of the major things. Done with trauma in his life.”
The oldest of four children, Sciambra graduates in May in construction management. He’s made good grades and job opportunities seem plentiful for a guy who was called “The Old Man” by teammates during his freshman season.
“He’s always been mature for his age,” Ellen said.
His baseball future remains murky. “He knows the reality at how hard it is to get drafted,” his mother said.
Sciambra’s already overcome a few hurdles, though. What’s another?
After all, he’s back living the dream after cracking his neck.
“He’s having a blast,” Ellen said.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.