BOB LIEPA PHOTO
Mattituck catcher Greg Siliris, who underwent brain surgery last year, is one of the team’s top players.
As with many baseball players, Greg Siliris had a tough-minded approach when it came to injuries. Playing through the pain was part of the game. So, early last season, when the first-string catcher for the Mattituck Tuckers felt pain in his right throwing arm, he didn’t think much of it.
“Any injury I had, I never really cared about it,” Siliris said. “I just tried to play through it. That’s what I was trying to do here, too.”
The sharp pain Siliris felt from his fingers to his elbow got so bad that he couldn’t swing a bat. He played for a couple of weeks during which he caught but didn’t bat.
A trainer figured Siliris had a pinched nerve. Then a bulging disc was thought to be the trouble. But with his parents, Greg and Ellie, aggressively seeking an answer, and after MRIs were taken, it was learned that a cyst was the source of the problem. The cyst was putting pressure on his spine and causing nerve damage.
“The pain was moving everywhere,” Siliris said. “It was killing all the nerves.”
If left untreated, paralysis was possible.
What was ailing Siliris was something he had never heard of before. Siliris found out he had been born with a condition known as Arnold-Chiari malformation, which is a malformation of the brain. That’s when things moved really quickly. Two days later, on April 17, Siliris underwent emergency brain surgery at Stony Brook University Medical Center. In an operation that lasted about nine and a half hours, an incision was made in the back of Siliris’ head. Part of his skull was removed to relieve pressure, and a hole was drilled through the spine.
Siliris said things progressed so quickly that he didn’t have a lot of time to worry before the operation. Also, he said, “My dad tried to keep everything hidden from me.”
Following the operation, Siliris was out of action for about four months. He was saddened to be told that he could no longer play football, but relieved to hear that he could continue his baseball career.
“Once I was cleared to play, I went right back to playing baseball,” he said during a break in practice on Monday.
As if to make up for lost time, Siliris played in summer and fall leagues, eagerly anticipating his junior season with the Tuckers. He said he is the same player, if not better, than he was before the surgery.
Last year, in Siliris’ absence, the Tuckers had Dimitri Rauseo catching before he got hurt himself, leaving the position for Mike Gagen.
Siliris has brought stability to the catching position this season. Through Mattituck’s first 11 games, he has caught every inning. Batting in the No. 3 spot in the order, he had a .342 average with a home run, having driven in about a dozen runs.
“I love to hit,” he said. “I’ve always been a hitter.”
With a backstop that sits about 40 feet behind home plate at Mattituck High School, blocking balls is an important part of Siliris’ job, too.
“We missed him tremendously last year,” Coach Steve De Caro said. “He’s one of those hitters that has some power, but he can also hit the ball the other way. Catching-wise, he’s a leader out there.”
De Caro said Siliris has an “adequate” arm and has been throwing out base runners, but he would like to see that arm become stronger.
Siliris, a former third baseman who took up catching as an eighth-grader, was brought up to the varsity team for the playoffs when he was a freshman. He said he is enjoying this season, and it should come as no surprise that with what he went through last year he has a new outlook.
“I appreciate life a lot more than I used to,” he said. “There are a lot of things that I can’t do any more, but I don’t really care as long as I can play baseball.”