By Gavin Menu
Nick Kruel was laid flat on the soccer field at Hampton Bays High School last fall, his right ankle shattered in several places while he received a shot of morphine right on the field. At that moment, he looked up at his mother and asked if he would be able to play baseball for Pierson this spring.
Flash forward six months after a long, hard winter and Kruel, 16, is back on the field, playing first base and pitching for a Whalers team looking to make another deep run into the postseason.
“It feels pretty good to be back out on the field,” Kruel, a junior, said on Monday after a cold day of scrimmaging East Hampton at Mashashimuet Park. “I definitely missed having that competitive drive.”
Kruel was in his first ever varsity soccer game at Hampton Bays High School on September 7 when a physical game turned ugly and Kruel was knocked down with a slide tackle that smashed his right ankle to pieces.
“In all my years of being around sports, I have never seen anything like that,” said Sandi Kruel, Nick’s mother, who watched the play from the sideline. “The ankle just snapped like a toothpick.”
“Nick is a great kid, and my sadness was that it was the first game he ever played varsity soccer,” Peter Solow, the head soccer coach said this week. “He is a terrific athlete and we were hoping it was going to be a really great season for him.”
Kruel was rushed to the hospital and underwent emergency surgery under the watchful eye of Dr. John Hubbell. From there it was countless hours of physical therapy with Sinead Fitzgibbon and Susan Roman at Manual Sports Physical Therapy in Sag Harbor and much later an intensive strength program with Rich Decker at Studio 89.
“Rich donated his services because his muscles went into atrophy,” Sandi Kruel said. “I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Hubbell, Sinead and Susan and Rich. And of course my son had something to do with it as well. There are not a lot 16 year-olds who would have worked as hard as he did.”
Kruel on Monday said it has been “a long haul” to get back into competitive sports, and that he has been through “incredible physical and mental pain.” He was most looking forward to baseball this year, he said, because of a breakout season he had pitching in summer league, where he excelled with a most unlikely pitch.
“Nick throws a knuckleball,” Sandi Kruel said before Monday’s scrimmage. “And recently he tried out for a big traveling summer team, the Long Island Tigers, and made the team.”
When asked about the knuckleball, a rare pitch that Kruel only debuted competitively in summer ball last year, Kruel said he is hoping he can unleash the pitch on League VIII hitters this year.
“I was a little kid fooling around and I was never really a pitcher, but I would fool around with a knuckleball,” Kruel said. “Eventually last summer, I asked my coach if I could use it in a game and I dominated with it.”