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Kaneland's Spitzzeri: 'They are always there for you'
By John Lemon | Daily Herald Staff

Joe Spitzzeri, Jr. walks to the mound to throw out the first pitch Thursday before Kaneland's Western Sun Conference game against Sycamore. Spitzzeri is being treated for a rare genetic disorder.

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

Kaneland's Jay Levita gives a hug to teammate Joe Spitzzeri, Jr. The teammates live two houses apart.

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 5/9/2008 12:29 AM

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After dropping the first two games of the series, Kaneland's baseball team came back to beat Western Sun Conference leader Sycamore 7-4 Thursday in Maple Park.

That's nothing compared to the comeback Knights junior Joe Spitzzeri made.

After spending most of the last five months in either a hospital or Kohl's House, a home for transplant patients in Chicago, Spitzzeri was back enjoying the things most high school kids take for granted -- sitting on the bench, trading jokes, cheering on his teammates.

For a day, Spitzzeri was a normal 17-year-old again.

A normal 17-year-old who threw out the first pitch, who was given a special jersey from his teammates, and whose family received a $750 check from the Kaneland community who showed their support for a family member going through a trying time.

"It was really fun," Spitzzeri said. "I didn't expect to throw out the first pitch or any of that. That was a big surprise."

Spitzzeri was diagnosed with mono in December but it was soon discovered that his health was in much worse shape. He had a disorder called X-linked lymphoproliferative, caused by a defect in the X-chromosome. It is related to a condition known as HLH and is fatal if untreated for 8 weeks.

Fortunately, it was detected early enough, and Spitzzeri is feeling better after undergoing treatment in Chicago, which included chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

His dad, Joe Sr., said getting back to a game was a big step for his son on the road to a full recovery.

"For him now it's a sign he's moving forward," Spitzzeri said. "He's out of the hospital, out of Kohl's House, back in the normal routine somewhat, just to get together with your buddies, get back out to a game. I think he enjoyed it."

The elder Spitzzeri also couldn't say enough about the support from the community. The Kaneland baseball team raised $1,500 for its program, then donated half of it to the Spitzzeri family.

"Phenomenal," Spitzzeri said. "It's been great. It's been great when our house burned down five years ago and it's great group who help out anyway they need to help out.

"Typical Kaneland community. They are always there for you."

His teammates, most of whom haven't seen Spitzzeri for months, were as excited to see him Thursday as Spitzzeri was to be back.

"It was great to have him here," third baseman Mike Pritchard said. "He was a big part of the team, a good pitcher, good athlete all the way around. It was good to see him."

"Joe means a lot to the team," Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. "This was about him today. The team kind of responded to him being out here today and us getting to see him for the first time in awhile. His presence picked these guys up a lot. We kind of dug down a little deeper and got some extra out of everybody today. Nice victory for him being out here."

Spitzzeri will return to school in October. He hopes to be back for basketball by December and his entire senior year of baseball.

"I'm feeling really good," Spitzzeri said. "It's nice to get back. All the guys have been great about it and keeping my spirits up."