Dom Grillo’s college career almost ended last year, on a chilly March day in Richmond, Virginia.
This is a better ending.
The North Kingstown native is back on the mound for the University of Rhode Island baseball team, enjoying a senior season that’s more like what he envisioned. Arm problems that surfaced that day at VCU last year cost him the rest of the season, but a medical redshirt, rehab and a willingness to keep pushing allowed him to return for a farewell tour.
“Definitely pitching at home, seeing some familiar faces from North Kingstown, it reminds me that I should be out there,” Grillo said. “I shouldn’t have quit last year and just said, ‘I had a career ending injury.’”
A reliever for most of his first three years at URI, Grillo is on the verge of setting a new career high in innings pitched this season, while pitching in whatever role the Rams need. He owns a 2.42 ERA and a 3-0 record.
Grillo was headed toward the same type of season last year when the trouble began. On the heels of perhaps the best outing of his career – five shutout innings against eventual NCAA Tournament qualifier Stetson – Grillo took the mound out of the bullpen in a March 25 game against VCU and realized something was wrong.
“It was kind of weird how it all happened,” Grillo said. “I remember I started against Stetson. It was warm out. It was probably the second start of my career, in my senior year, so I probably wasn’t used to the amount of throwing. The following weekend, I went three innings against VCU and it was colder out. I remember after the first inning, my arm just felt dead. I went to our trainer and said, ‘Something’s up.’”
After testing and an MRI, Grillo was shut down for the rest of the season, but the situation could have been much worse. Further action and the resulting damage might have brought the end not just of his season, but of his career.
“I got lucky,” Grillo said. “One day more, one more appearance, I wouldn’t have been able to return. To me, that spoke to me, like, ‘Hey, this is your opportunity to finish your career on a high note and not just on an injury.’”
Grillo began rehabbing. He knew he would likely return thanks to the medical redshirt, but it was still a tough time.
“The hardest thing last year was senior day,” Grillo said. “All those guys, we had been here four years and been through everything together. It was hard to kind of see them out there, but I knew that I was coming back. Three years with these guys, the seniors this year, in 2016 won the championship. And we’re hungry again, especially after last year.”
Grillo is doing his part. He didn’t allow a run in his first three outings, then earned victories against Wichita State, George Washington and Fordham with solid, five-inning performances. He pitched four innings without allowing an earned run as URI finished off a sweep of Richmond earlier this month for its third straight A-10 series win. He has started two games and pitched out of the bullpen in his other six appearances, providing a valuable utility piece for a pitching staff that’s still sorting out roles.
“He gives us a chance to win and he’s always going to do that,” head coach Raphael Cerrato said. “Great leader, guy on the bench, whatever it takes for this team. The kind of guy you love.”
Grillo isn’t pitching at 100 percent health, but in this true final go-round, he’s pushing through.
“It’s an everyday battle, but compared to last year, it’s night and day how much better I feel,” he said. “Our trainers take great care of everyone. They put all their effort into getting me back for a fifth year and getting me as healthy as I possibly can.”
Healthy, and ready for a better ending.
“I was going to come back and do whatever I could,” Grillo said. “It’s really rewarding to get back out there.”