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The Rockland Boulders were enjoying not only another successful season but a franchise record start up until July 11. In a split second, everything would change for the team and left fielder Jon Smith and shortstop Mike Fransoso on a Tuesday night at Palisades Credit Union Park against the Quebec Capitales.

In the first inning, Capitales Maxx Tissenbaum would hit a pop-up into shallow left field. Fransoso running into the outfield with Smith and centerfielder Jared McDonald converging on the play. However, Smith and Fransoso ended up crossing paths, violently colliding into each other and hitting the turf with a thud.

Both players remained down on the field for a lengthy period of time. Eventually Smith and Fransoso would get up with assistance from teammates and doctors. Smith sustaining multiple facial fractures and a concussion while Fransoso was diagnosed with a severe concussion.

“I’m feeling better and we both got pretty lucky,” said Smith. “Fransoso is gong to be back pretty soon and it could have been a lot worse. He could have easily been an All-Star and best shortstop in the game. Watching how he goes about his business every day has been impressive. He is a true professional and brings a lot to the lineup. For me it’s just a matter of rest and I will be back. This is not my first time sitting and not being able to play which sucks.”

“I don’t remember anything after the play happened,” Fransoso explained. “Just an unfortunate event, a baseball play that happened and obviously much worse than what you would normally see on a baseball field in a collision but it’s part of the game. Both Jon and I went after a fly ball hard and no man’s land and just trying to make a play and we called it at the same time and late. I didn’t hear him and he didn’t hear me and it’s tough when you are going full speed in trying to make a play and timed up where we collided perfectly in a bad way. He took the brunt of it and it is his second time going through an injury.”

In his second tour of duty with Rockland, Smith was enjoying a breakout year, earning an All-Star selection by hitting .327 with 12 home runs, 34 RBI, 49 hits, 12 doubles and 31 runs scored.

“It’s been unbelievable and playing against these guys the last three years on Trois-Rivieres and I looked forward to coming here and playing with these guys and getting to know them,” Smith said. “We all work together in batting and just seeing them work is very impressive.”

“Everyone has a good approach and holds each other accountable for what they do. We play the best team game by far in the league and do the little things and work towards what the job is given at any moment.”

Meanwhile, Fransoso, in his second year with the Boulders was having a solid season hitting .278 with two home runs, 19 RBI, leading the team in walks with 38, second in steals with 17, 49 hits and 33 runs scored.

“It’s never easy when you are taken out of the lineup under these circumstances especially with the way we were playing as a team and takes away from some of the clubhouse mentality and when you have two teammates that go down with injuries and a guy with broken bones and concussion and takes a toll on the guys in the clubhouse,” said Fransoso. “They continue to battle and go out and play hard and I commend them for that. It’s been hard not being at the stadium and trying to support them and help them out. I took a week off and went home and relaxed and got to see my family.”

Last Friday when Rockland faced Trois-Rivieres at Palisades Credit Union Park, both players made their much anticipated return to the ball park where both of their pictures were shown on the video scoreboard. They greeted teammates in the dugout and were given a standing ovation by fans.

“It was good to be back in the clubhouse and in a uniform again and feel like a part of the team and needed that for my morale and get my hopes up again,” Fransoso said. “The fans were great and countless people reaching out to me with well wishes, community and fan base were awesome. Nice to get back out there and see the people who cared and supported me.”

Three out of the Rockland Boulders All-Stars were infielders; first baseman Joe Maloney, second baseman Dylan Tice and Cody Regis. Fransoso is looking forward to playing with them again and commented on their play.

On Dylan Tice, “He is fun to play and makes my job easier at shortstop with great feeds on double plays. An unreal hitter that gets on base, steals bases and puts the guys in back of him in a better position to succeed.”

“Cody makes great plays at third base and Joe at first has picked all of us up numerous times in the infield and can’t ask for anymore. A first baseman that works his tail off every time for you and puts his body on the line making a play and saving an error for us. Whether getting clipped by runners, picking a ball out of the dirt, up the line or in the air makes us better players.”

Fransoso said the credit goes to Manager Jamie Keefe for keeping the team together these last two weeks.

“Jamie brings in the guys that are just not good baseball players but good people. The clubhouse is excellent and there are no groups or cliques and one team. A great manager to play for and helps the team grow strong for 100 games.”

“Everybody hangs out together and pulling for one another and shows how you win ball games. When you have 22 guys on a roster and playing for another and playing for the guy next to him. When we lose a guy, the next is where we pick up from and welcome him to the team.”

Rockland begins the stretch run of the regular season with a seven-game road trip to Canada, first taking on the Ottawa Champions in a four-game set and finishing up with three games at Quebec. Both Smith and Fransoso will be with the team during both series.

Smith is planning to lend his hitting expertise to the rest of the team.

“If I see something I will bring it up and give a suggestion,” he said. “Everyone is looking for that one thing that will take them to the next level.”

Fransoso is nearing a return to the diamond and hopes to do so during the road trip.

“Joking around with guys in the clubhouse and feel like I haven’t played all year and only been two weeks and feels like the entire off-season and opening day. Going to have some jitters and being in the clubhouse and going through my routine that I have missed which is what you do before a game, BP (batting practice), how you get dressed, put your uniform on and get ready to play. Feels a little weird but ready to roll where we left off.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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