Steve Piorkowski always envisioned putting together some kind of Bayside reunion among the players he coached this time of year. An alumni game or a barbecue, he said. He never envisioned it would take place in the Pepsi Porch at Citi Field, a few months after he fought off cancer.
“I knew it was going to be like this,” said Piorkowski, dressed in a blue Bayside T-shirt. “I just didn’t know who was coming. I have kids here who don’t even know each other wearing Bayside uniforms. I know them all, but they all graduated different years.”
More than 235 people, including family, friends, co-workers and a plethora of former players, made the trip to Flushing to watch the 20th-year cancer-surviving coach receive a Mets Spirit Award on behalf of Bayside on the field with his wife Susan Hayes, daughter Kat and father Steve, before the Mets 7-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds Friday night.
“It’s like a big reunion,” Bayside senior forward Ashley Mitchell said. “We came in and basketball players from 2005 were there. It’s a huge reunion. I love it. Everybody loves ‘P.’”
Piorkowski was diagnosed with myeloma, a compression fracture and absorption of his C6 vertebra in January and was confined to a wheelchair. Eight weeks after intrusive surgery that placed a titanium cage in his neck, he is on the road back to being 100 percent. He couldn’t help but show all those close to him a picture of the inside of his “new neck.”
“There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be better,” said the softball, girls basketball and girls bowling coach.
He rarely sat still Friday night, huddling with one group after another. At one point he hurried down a set of steps with his arms open as he was greeted by screaming basketball and softball players holding up a sign thanking him.
“He kept saying how much he looked forward to seeing the players, ‘I’m not going to watch any of the game. I’m going to be moving around talking to people,’” Hayes said.
One player had on a wrist band with simply “P,” as he is affectionately known. Hayes called this a different type of therapy from the physical one he’s getting and joked that he would be tired later after she warned him to rest.
“I haven’t seen him for 10 years,” said Tracy Ng, a 1999 graduate and orthopedic surgeon. “Now I kind of want to keep in touch with him because I feel like I can help out now. He used to help me in softball. Now I can give back to help him.”
Piorkowski made his real return to the field May 18 in the Commodores’ loss to McKee/Staten Island Tech in the second round of the PSAL Class A softball playoffs just six weeks after surgery. He wasn’t on the bench for basketball season, but his team made a Cinderella run to the PSAL Class B semifinals as a No. 28 seed in his honor.
“He looks like a million bucks now from where we saw him during the season,” Mitchell said. “He’s OK. He’s walking. He’s talking. He’s being sarcastic. He’s being ‘P.’”
Piorkowski expects to be back working and coaching in September, given his physical health keeps improving. He’s looking to become active with his teams in the fight against cancer and has already been to a cancer relay at Bayside.
“It’s an amazing transformation,” Piorkowski said. “I know I am well on my way to being 100 percent and if I’m determined enough I can get in even better shape than that.”
©2012 Community News Group
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