Every time Carson Magill crouches, his left knee makes the sound of someone stepping on a pile of dead twigs.
It gets even louder when he gets up.
That stomach churning is the reason King’s Christian Junior is no longer able to play catcher. However, it would not undo the gruesome collision that caused it.
“It’s crazy, it really is,” Magill said. “It’s crazy, but if I could choose this moment, to either get hurt or not get hurt, to go through that process (again), I would definitely choose to get hurt.”
Because although the 17-year-old suffered a distal femur fracture and a dislocated kneecap, and was told by doctors he might not be able to walk properly, the aftermath of that moment changed his life for the better.
“He’s focused on all areas now,” his father Bryon said. “He takes his faith more seriously, his food more seriously, school more seriously, sports more seriously. It changed him.”
It also changed his place in baseball.
Magill decided after the injury that the only logical position for him to be pitcher was if he could return to the diamond. It would put the least stress on his damaged leg.
Magill hadn’t pitched more than a few youth innings in his life, but his elevated work ethic helped him pick it up again quickly. Within months, before even his head coach or parents knew he was pitching, Magill was turning heads.
He was once a catcher with little chance of playing Division I baseball. Now he has several DI coaches interested in watching him pitch.
“(The injury) made him one of the toughest kids I’ve ever seen,” said head coach John Scanzano. “To overcome what he’s overcome, he pitches without fear, and that’s rare among pitchers today. It doesn’t matter if he hits someone or she hits a home run, his demeanor doesn’t change on the mound. It stays the same. He has a pit bull mentality. A Division I head coach once watched him set up a game and his words were, This kid has guts.”
Unbelievable considering that two years ago Scanzano and others doubted he could return to football.
‘No way, no way, that didn’t happen’
The Knights were in Hanover, Virginia for the team’s annual spring training trip in March 2020.
Magill, then a freshman, was King’s Christian’s future catcher, but in that squad he had two veterans ahead of him in Mike Binnachio and Masami Yamauchi.
However, Scanzano wanted Magill in the lineup, so he tried him out in left field alongside current Lafayette outfielder Kaleb Willis.
“I remember telling Kaleb before the game, ‘Hey, you’ve got a freshman next to you in left field, so help him out there,'” Scanzano recalled. “If a ball is hit and you can mark, take it.”
The first inning ended without any action, and Magill was left on deck at the end of the frame.
He spent the top of the second anxiously waiting for the third out so he could hit his shot. King’s Christian recorded two easy outs, then the third batter slammed towards Magill.
“He had the ball, but Kaleb came out of the middle like a truck,” Scanzano said. “The distance Kaleb ran was ridiculous, but he had his head down and was running. (Magill) said I got it, but Kaleb never heard him, and (Magill) never waved his arm or anything.
“Kaleb ran, ran, ran, Magill camped under the ball…the last second (Magill) kind of took a step back to catch the ball and Kaleb dove at the same time, and he just hit the back of his leg. (Magill) went down and from where we were the way he hit him you saw him go down and you think damn that probably hurt.
Scanzano went to check on Magill, who said he couldn’t move his left leg.
“I was sitting on the floor, no way, no way, that didn’t happen,” Magill said.
However, he didn’t feel much pain. He was helped off the field and ice was placed on his knee. He couldn’t feel his ankle, leading the coach to believe he had torn his cruciate ligament.
Had they known what really happened, they would have left him on the outfield turf and called an ambulance.
Instead, they loaded Magill into the family car and were rushed to a local hospital. The ride was not pleasant as every curve and bump caused Magill agony.
Doctors also assumed Magill had torn his ACL, but X-rays showed otherwise.
“I broke (my femur) right next to the (femoral) artery,” Magill said. “If the bone had scratched the artery, it would have been awful. It made it super urgent.”
He was transferred to a Virginia Commonwealth University hospital and was scheduled for surgery as soon as possible. His knee was so swollen that it appeared as if his kneecap was still intact, when in fact it was on the back of his leg.
Magill had two surgeries and doctors gave him a wide range of possible outcomes, from not walking normally due to growth plate problems, to healing but not being able to play baseball, to being completely healthy at 18 months.
“I was kind of pissed about it, but I’m not really that emotional a person,” Magill said of doctors telling him baseball might not be his future. “I didn’t really react. It was just kind of in my head, I told myself there’s no way. There was no way that could have happened.”
He was right. Three months later he was playing baseball, although only coach Bill Stonis and a few teammates knew about it.
A new way
Magill received much support when he returned home.
Phillies farmhand Jeff Singer (Holy Cross grad) got a baseball autographed for him by a couple of teammates. Twins hurler Devin Smeltzer (Bishop Eustace) sent him a recovery video. Mike Scanzano, one of his travel coaches and John’s brother, spoke to him every week. His teammates were also by his side.
There were fights. He couldn’t shower for three months. The only way to get clean was to sit in a bathtub with garbage bags over his leg while his mother dumped buckets of water on him.
“I stunk,” he said.
Magill also had trouble sleeping. He shifted from the couch to his bed, trying to find a position that didn’t hurt his leg.
He passed the time reading magazines that his teammates brought him. One day he was flipping through them and saw a picture of someone throwing and the idea clicked in his brain. He would try the hill.
Magill went to King’s Christian practices while he was injured and in June he spoke to Stonis about pitching.
They started slowly. Magill, wearing bulky braces, developed his mechanics. This became bullpen sessions.
In August, John Scanzano’s club, Scanzano/Combat Baseball, held a collegiate showcase in Pennsauken.
“Bill tells me I’m going to have Carson open today and I’m going to who?” Scanzano said. “…He threw really well and I thought you were kidding me. … He came up there and I think he may have been sticking out the side. He knocked guys out. He threw 82, 83. … He hit the zone, threw off-speed pitches and he mowed them down.
Magill was still not medically cleared, although he claimed he was.
“He did more than we knew,” said Bryon Magill, who understood his son’s overzealousness. “I tore three ligaments in my elbow in my junior year of high school. They told me nine months but I was kind of stubborn like him. I came back. He came back quicker than me.”
It’s because of a ride Carson has never shown before.
Magill worked hard before the injury. He did extra from time to time, but he didn’t give it his all.
“If I do something after the injury, I’ll do it the best I can,” he said. “(Physiotherapy) tells me to bike a mile, I ride two miles. I saw David Goggin, the Navy SEAL, his thing was who’s going to carry the boat. Someone does 15 reps, I’ll do 16. … That’s exactly the kind of mindset I’ve been going through.”
He played soccer that fall and then threw 45 1/3 innings, the top 5 in South Jersey, last spring. He went 5-3 with a 3.55 ERA and 61 strikeouts while fielding the Knights’ biggest games. That was with less than a year of experience.
He recently completed the second anniversary of the injury and is up to 88mph on the radar gun.
He was told that he might never run onto the baseball field again. The question now is how far he will go.
“He’s a DI pitcher, no doubt about it,” Scanzano said. “…He’s a winner. If you were to ask me, and that goes for pretty much every team I coach, if I had to win a game and pass the ball to someone, maybe there are kids who throw harder, maybe kids who are stronger, but no man will compete like him. I’ll give him the ball 10 times out of 10 to win this one game. For me there is no doubt.”
Josh Friedman has produced award-winning South Jersey sports coverage for the Courier Post, the Daily Journal and the Burlington County Times for more than a decade. If you have or know an interesting story to tell, reach us on Twitter at @JFriedman57 or email us at [email protected] You can also contact him at 856-486-2431. Help support local journalism with a subscription.