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Bayside coach comes back after neck tumor removal

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Steve Piorkowski was mobbed by his Bayside players as he walked through the gates to the school’s softball field Friday.

“It’s an honor to have him back for our last game,” sophomore pitcher Heidi Gomez said. “To have him come lifted up our spirits 10 times more.”

It was Piorkowski’s first game of the season after spending most of the school year recovering from a malignant tumor that ate away at the bone marrow in his C6 vertebra. He had just visited his neurosurgeon, Sheeraz Qureshi, in the city when his wife Susan Hayes asked him what time the Commodores’ PSAL Class A second round playoff game was and if he wanted to go.

“It’s therapeutic for him,” Hayes said.

Just two month ago, Piorkowski, 51, was laid up in a wheelchair watching the school’s girls’ basketball team, which he also coaches, have their Cinderella run to the PSAL Class A semifinal ended by Curtis. On April 4, after two months of radiation therapy, he had reconstructive surgery on his neck to replace the C6 vertebra.

A small titanium cage was placed there along with rods and a cadaver bone for support. He is quick to show people the X-ray picture of his “new neck” on his BlackBerry. His cancer is currently in remission.

“As my surgeon said, ‘You had a 10-story building with the sixth floor pulled out,’” Piorkowski said. “I’m really feeling good.”

The emotion unfortunately didn’t translate into success for Bayside on the diamond as it fell 9-4 to McKee/Staten Island Tech in an error-filled performance. Piorkowski, looking like he had never left, paced the dugout doling out words of advice and encouragement. Maggie Kassimis, who took the helm in his absence, still coached third.

“It was definitely a surprise,” she said. “It was great to have him here. It made you just feel like we were back to normal in a way. It’s great to see him up and about.”

Hayes reaped plenty of praise on Mount Sinai Hospital’s Qureshi, who performed the surgery just six days after they got in contact with him. Piorkowski is currently going for physical therapy and still can’t drive. He plans to be back teaching and coaching at Bayside in September.

“[Qureshi] gave me the best Mother’s Day present — allowing us to go for a walk,” Hayes said.

At the game, Piorkowski couldn’t help it, immediately slipping back into his old ways. He said right away he began evaluating MSIT and his own team and what it would take to win. His thoughts inevitably made their way to next season.

“Already I am probably going to go home and process all this information and say, ‘I know what I got to do,’” Piorkowski said.

His players hoped to get their beloved coach a win and extend their season. Despite being down 9-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Bayside dugout was still as loud as ever and Gomez delivered a two-out RBI single before the final out of the season was recorded.

“We said it on the mound, ‘Do it for P again,’ everything,” Gomez said. “Then he came. It was a big deal.”

Posted 11:12 pm, May 23, 2012
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