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Sisco, His Career Survive Dangerous Ditch : Baseball: Former Titan has recovered nicely after snowmobile crash threatened his life.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It seemed like such a frivolous endeavor to Steve Sisco, hopping on a snowmobile for a joy ride over the fields of Oregonia, Ohio.

But the former Cal State Fullerton standout ended up in a ditch, covered with blood, his arm and back broken, his head woozy, and his professional baseball career--and, possibly, his life--in jeopardy.

Certainly not Sisco, who learned a hard lesson last Dec. 26.

“That was my first time on a snowmobile,” said Sisco, who is in his third season in the Kansas City Royals’ organization. “I never even thought of the consequences--you never do. Unfortunately I got more confident as the day progressed, and the last ride got me.

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“I don’t want to say how fast I was going or how much fun I was having because I haven’t told anyone in the organization. I’m trying to make it as painless as possible for them. But it doesn’t matter whether I was going 20 m.p.h. or 160 m.p.h., the point is I shouldn’t have been doing it.”

Sisco was spending Christmas with the family of his girlfriend, Titan gymnast Karena Mills, and the two were heading to the Cincinnati airport for a flight to Los Angeles when they stopped in Oregonia to visit Mills’ sister.

Sisco joined Mills’ father, Gene, for the snowmobile trek, and the first-time driver quickly developed a knack for handling the machine. But as he turned around to head home for the last run of the day, Sisco hit a patch of ice and slid into a drainage ditch.

He was thrown into the dashboard, then off the snowmobile, the left side of his body and his head bearing the brunt of the collision. Fortunately, Sisco was wearing a helmet--it might have saved his life--but that didn’t spare him from serious injury.

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Sisco suffered a broken left forearm, compression fractures of vertebrae in his back and neck and a concussion. He was unconscious for a minute or two after the accident, during which time Gene Mills ran to the house to call for help. Karena Mills thought the worst at first.

“When my dad came to the door, I’d never seen that kind of look on his face before,” she said. “He was white as a ghost and completely in shock. I thought Steve was dead.”

By the time Mills reached Sisco, he was standing but staggering.

“He had this glassy-eyed look and there was blood all around his face and nose,” Mills said. “He was in total shock, but I was just thankful he was alive.”

Said Sisco: “I didn’t know where I was or who I was. I don’t remember any of it.”

An ambulance took Sisco to a hospital, where he was treated and released in time to fly to California the next day.

“That was the worst experience of my life, sitting in a plane from Ohio to L.A.,” Sisco said. “I had some pain pills, but they didn’t work very well. I was very uncomfortable and looked like a wreck.”

Sisco’s back and neck were sore several weeks, and his left arm was in a cast for nine weeks. Still, that didn’t stop him from being a member of former Titan teammate Phil Nevin’s wedding party Jan. 15 in Fullerton.

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“I had a blue cast removed and a black one put on for the wedding,” Sisco said. “I had to match my tuxedo. It actually worked out pretty well--my arm was at a perfect angle to escort the ladies down the aisle.”

The cast was removed for good at the beginning of March, but his arm healed slowly. Sisco, who helped Fullerton reach the College World Series in 1990 and ’92, missed all of spring training and didn’t return to action until April, which he spent in the Royals’ extended spring training camp at Ft. Myers, Fla.

The second baseman finally joined the Class-A Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks last week and was batting .292 in six starts through Tuesday’s game.

“I feel great, ready to go,” said Sisco, who had a .322 career batting average, 45 doubles, 10 homers and 129 runs batted in in three seasons (1990-92) at Fullerton. “I’m in better shape now than I’ve been for a long time. Things are finally getting back to normal.”

Sisco credits Mills, to whom he was engaged Jan. 29, his parents and former teammates Nevin and Jason Moler with inspiring him throughout his recovery. But Sisco, described as “an overachiever” by Bob Hegman, the Royals’ director of minor league operations, didn’t need a lot of pushing.

“It’s a dream of mine to make the major leagues, it’s the only thing I’ve really wanted since I started playing,” Sisco said. “I can’t see any other way to go about it except giving 100%.”

A 16th-round pick of the Royals in 1992, Sisco hit .330 at Eugene, Ore., Kansas City’s short-season, Class-A affiliate, his first season. He batted .286 at Class-A Rockford (Ill.) in 1993 and now has ascended to the Royals’ highest Class-A team, Wilmington of the Carolina League.

“Steve has great work habits, he plays hard all the time, and he’s a manager’s dream to have on the team,” Hegman said. “He’ll continue to advance until the level of competition stops him. I don’t know how far that will take him.”

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Hegman said the organization was disappointed about Sisco’s accident but did not dwell on it.

“Fortunately he’s back to his old self, and I don’t think this will slow his progress,” Hegman said. “It’s nothing to harp on. We just wanted to get him healthy, and now it’s full steam ahead.”

For Sisco, the accident was a painful reminder that if baseball is to remain his livelihood, he needs to avoid such risky activities.

“I guess I could have got hit by a car walking across the street, but this was different,” Sisco said. “It was self-inflicted. I’ve worked hard to reach this level, and the accident will make me work even harder.”

Will he ride a snowmobile again?

“Not for a long, long time.”


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