Seaford slugger Lindsay Montemarano returns a year after back surgery
It was at that moment, as she lie face down in the dirt, that Lindsay Montemarano knew she was back.
It wasn't after hitting a towering home run or delivering a perfectly placed changeup. It was after taking a nasty fall while sprinting down the first-base line.
Montemarano, a pitcher and third baseman for Seaford, was playing organized softball for the first time since missing her entire junior season after back surgery. She hadn't tried to sprint until she hit a chopper to second base and took what looked like a violent head-first slide 20 feet away from the bag.
"I thought I was going to break my back," she recalled. "But as I was laying there, I felt fine. I knew if I could take that fall and not feel any pain, then I could do anything. Everyone came rushing over to ask if I was OK and I was like, 'Don't worry. I'm good. I'm back.' "
She returns, she said, with a titanium rod in her back and a chip on her shoulder.
She wants to remind the forgetful of how good she was and assure the doubters that she will be again.
"She has the potential to be great," Seaford coach Rob Perpall said, "and I don't say that too often."
As an eighth-grader, Montemarano helped Seaford make a run to the county finals.
The next year, she hit .600 and tied for a county high with eight homers to earn first-team All-Long Island.
In 10th grade, she led Seaford to a county title and again made All-Long Island after hitting .592 with five home runs and 37 RBIs and going 9-1 with a 2.58 ERA.
She committed to UCLA her sophomore year. Ultimately, after some coaching changes at UCLA, she decided in August that Michigan was the better fit for her, a decision she says was hers entirely.
But one morning in March 2012, she was concerned her playing days were in jeopardy. Montemarano, who suffered from sporadic back pain since she was 11, said she woke up with pain shooting down her legs.
"It felt like someone was poking me with knives," she said.
A herniated disc in her back was pressing against a nerve, she said. After 5 1/2 hours of surgery, she said, the disc was removed, two of her vertebrae were fused together and a pair of titanium rods were inserted for support.
Unable to lift her arms after surgery, she wondered when she'd be able to feed herself again, let alone swing a bat. She wore a plastic brace for four months to restrict her movement. She had to rebuild her arm and leg muscles after months of inactivity. She had to learn how to swing her hips and reconstruct her swing.
Seaford's best player, most dangerous when on the field with a uniform on her back and a bat in her hands, was instead on the bench wearing a brace and holding a pencil to keep score the entire season.
"It was torturous not being able to do anything for my team," she said. "I hated having to watch the sport I love go by."
By late summer, Montemarano was back on the softball field with the New Jersey Inferno, her travel team. In the fall, she was making acrobatic saves as the goalkeeper on Seaford's soccer team. In the winter, she was fearlessly attacking the basket as the point guard on the basketball team.
Now comes spring. Montemarano's first game back with the Seaford softball team is against Floral Park on Thursday, nearly one year to the day after her surgery. Oh, and she said she's pain free.
"I think some people forgot about me and I want to make them remember why I'm one of the best players on the Island,'' she said. "I've been counting down the days until my first at-bat.
"I don't think I'm going to fall on my way to first this time . . . If I do end up in the dirt, I hope it's because I'm diving into home plate."
At that moment, you'll know that Lindsay Montemarano is back.