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Courageous comeback completed

After a devastating injury threatened to end Philip Diaz-McTague's career, the Bell-Jeff baseball player has made good on his vow to play again

March 20, 2011|By Jeff Tully, jeff.tully@latimes.com
  • Bell-Jeff's Philip Diaz came back from a serious injury.
Bell-Jeff's Philip Diaz came back from a serious… (Cheryl A. Guerrero,…)

It was a routine move, on a routine play, during a routine practice.

It was just about a year ago that Bellarmine-Jefferson High junior baseball player Philip Diaz-McTague was taking part in a fielding drill at shortstop at Burbank's Brace Canyon Park. As the athlete stepped to field the ball, he felt his left ankle snap.

Diaz-McTague said the pain was almost unbearable, as he dropped to the infield ground in a heap. He had to be carried off the field by a Guards assistant coach.

"It was a backhand play, a play I've done many times," said Diaz-McTague of the incident that took place last March. "My ankle was already injured…and then out of nowhere my ankle kind of buckled on me and I heard it pop. I knew it was bad."

After seeking medical help, Diaz-McTague said he was told that the bone in his ankle had completely separated. He was also informed that his injured leg would require a complicated surgery. Not only did the injury put an end to his season, but doctors told him he might not ever be able to resume rigorous physical activity.

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"They grafted a bone from my shin and they put it in my ankle, he said. "They were thinking about putting a cadaver bone in there. That's because there was only a small chance that a bone graph would work because the other bone was completely dead. They were hoping by putting a new bone next to the dead one, it would help to [regenerate] it."

Undaunted by the diagnoses, Diaz-McTague vowed he would do whatever it took to rehabilitate his ankle and take the field among his Bell-Jeff teammates for his senior year.

What followed was months of intense and painful physical therapy, predicated on a will to finish his high school career playing the sport he loves.

"It was a really long, long, long healing process," Diaz-McTague said. "I think I went to physical therapy for about nine months. The physical therapy was just the most painful thing. There was so much scar tissue, and basically having a new bone in my leg, it was excruciating."

On March 4, Diaz-McTague completed his year-long journey back when he ran onto the same Brace Canyon Park for Bell-Jeff's 2011 season-opening game against Kilpatrick. As if he was making up for lost time, Diaz-McTague went four for four and drove in two runs to spark a 13-3 win for the Guards.

Diaz-McTague's remarkable comeback has not been lost on his Bell-Jeff teammates, who made him a captain this season.

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