Crystal Clear: Ireland happy to be back

Published 8:34 pm Thursday, May 1, 2008

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
A year away from softball didn’t stop Crystal Ireland from digging into the batter’s box and swinging away. The Washington High School junior slapped a single in her first at-bat.
While that hit in a Pam Pack junior varsity victory on Friday may not seem like a big deal to some, it meant the world to Ireland. It was the first time she had stepped into the batter’s box since undergoing back surgery on Sept. 21.
Ireland injured her back while playing recreation ball shortly after the end of her freshman year. While pitching for her rec team, Ireland dove for a bunt that was popped into the air. The third baseman, who was also giving chase, accidentally slammed her knee in Ireland’s back and proceeded to fall on her.
Ireland knew she was hurt, just not how badly. While she experienced back pain and numb toes at times, she continued to play as doctors couldn’t quite get a grasp on the injury. After bone scans and MRIs, doctors finally diagnosed the problem.
After the diagnosis, she was supposed to wear a back brace for three months. When those three months were up, it was up to Ireland to decide whether or not she wanted to have surgery.
Surgeons took a bone graft from her hip and another person’s bone graft and packed the fracture with it. Four screws, two in her L5 and two in her L4, were inserted and they are joined by pins.
Instead of cutting a five-inch incision down the middle of her back to perform the surgery, doctors used two, two-inch incisions on either side because of her smaller stature.
Knowing that her daughter couldn’t play softball ate away at Colleen Ireland, Crystal’s mother and junior varsity head coach. What made it worse was that the Pam Pack coach put much of the blame on herself.
Crystal Ireland spent three days in the hospital. She was then sent home with some specific instructions — she couldn’t sit up for more than 20 minutes a day. That lasted a month.
Though Crystal Ireland wasn’t able to go to school, she said teachers and administrators were great.
Being confined to her house wasn’t all bad for Crystal Ireland. It gave her and her mother a chance to reconnect.
Crystal Ireland knew she wouldn’t be able to join her Pam Pack teammates on the softball field, but she still wanted to be a part of the team. Rejoining them was tougher on her than she imagined.
Crystal Ireland, who said she has some stiffness in her back just because it hasn’t been used much of late, is happy to be in uniform again. Even if it means playing two innings at a time.
The outgoing and affable junior, who is excited about Washington’s upcoming prom, said she believes she’ll be ready for softball by next season.