St. Joseph's Micki Keltos delivers a pitch in a game against Westhill last year.
The latest bout of criticism came last Thursday, when St. Joseph pitcher Micki Keltos was pitching on the road against Staples. Several members of Keltos’ family heard Staples parents discussing their daughter: “This is St. Joseph’s All-State pitcher?”
That comment has been familiar all spring. While it has been rumored for a while, what most people who follow FCIAC softball did not know is that on the day before last Thanksgiving, Keltos underwent surgery for a hernia after a seven-month ordeal in search of a diagnosis. Keltos confirmed it following yesterday’s game against New Canaan.
What the people who have unfairly been disparaging Keltos, an All-FCIAC and All-State selection the last two years, also don’t know is that her recovery has been slow and she just now is starting to round into her old form.
“I’m probably at about 90 or 95 percent,” Keltos said during a 25-minute interview. “What I have gone through has affected my pitching a lot. And with what so many people who don’t know the facts have been saying, what has happened to me at times has been so horrible.”
Keltos helped pitch the Cadets to the state final the past two years, and to the title last spring, though the season was a struggle.
Keltos said she first started experiencing health problems last April, when she began having difficulty digesting food.
“I would get sick, I had no energy, I was not getting any food,” she said. “I was lazy and sleeping.”
At first doctors thought Keltos, who said she is “a big fan of dairy,” was lactose intolerant. Then she was put on a gluten-free diet.
“I started having sharp pains in my abdomen,” she said. “It was like someone was stabbing me, and it would happen at random times. Sometimes I would scream because it hurt so much.”
To make matters worse, Keltos was struck in the ribs by a hard line drive during an FCIAC Tournament win over Trinity Catholic.
Keltos estimated that she saw about seven different doctors, including her pediatrician, an orthopedist and a gastroenterologist. She said she underwent blood work, X-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs and CAT Scans.
“Everything kept coming back negative,” she said. “Over the summer they found out that I was vitamin D deficient and maybe that was the problem, but it didn’t help.”
Keltos said it wasn’t until she went to Better Athletic Development, a training facility in Shelton, that someone suggested perhaps she had a hernia. Keltos went to a surgeon and was finally diagnosed. The cause, most likely, was normal wear and tear.
Those who did not know the facts were wondering if Keltos was really hurt. To interject a little first person here, I’ve learned that you don’t question athletes and their injuries. I also have special empathy for Keltos because I went through the same thing. It took two years and the same trips to different doctors before I had a bi-lateral hernia discovered three years ago. I went through the same vexation. The only difference: I was not a top athlete, and worse a teenager unfairly being placed under a microscope.
“I didn’t and don’t know how to take it some times,” Keltos said. “People didn’t know the situation and should have kept their comments to themselves.”
“We respected what she went through last year,” St. Joseph coach Jeff Babineau said. “She came to me and she didn’t want it to be a big deal. We had an agreement that she would go as far as she could, and when she couldn’t go any more she would give me a nod.”
Keltos has had a difficult time getting back to her old form, a process that is still ongoing. She said she lost 30 pounds, and is still about 10-15 under her customary weight.
Keltos said she didn’t throw for a month after the surgery, started to do more intensive work in early March and just now feels like she is close to being the Micki Keltos the league and state are familiar with.
“The most frustrating thing is after my surgery I worked my butt off trying to get my core back and it felt like all that work was a waste of time until recently; it’s all paying off now,” she said.
St. Joseph is 8-2 after yesterday’s 4-3 win over New Canaan. Keltos has started six games and finished two. She has worked well with Nikki Cote, the Cadets’ other pitcher, moving to shortstop when she is relieved. She is still one of the top hitters in the league. And she is more concerned with contributing to another successful postseason rather than any personal glory.
“Nikki and I really complement each other, and the rest of the team has been so great,” Keltos said. “They have helped me out so much. It’s great knowing I’m not 100 percent still and my team is backing me up. It’s the best feeling.”
Babineau said he admires the way Keltos has handled a situation no high school senior should have to experience, physically and psychologically.
“I think it wore on her because it took so long to figure it out,” Babineau said. “It’s not like an arm being hurt, it’s not visible to anyone. She had two sisters who were great players at Lauralton Hall and she doesn’t want to let her family down. People are too quick to judge.”
Keltos is going to play both softball and volleyball next year at Felician College, a Division II school in Lodi, N.J. Getting away from the area might give her the fresh start she needs.
“Going to college next year where no one knows you will probably be good,” she said. “It will be a new beginning for me. Until then I am going to try and get back to my same level. Through this whole thing, my parents have known the truth, my coach and my teammates. That’s all that matters to me.”
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