By Jim Sullivan
---- — An ACL tear. Just the mention of one is enough to send any athlete limping for the hills.
For Newburyport baseball pitcher Evan Habib, the injury was a reality not once but twice in the past two years, on both of his knees.
“You have to give him credit for having the ability to come back from adversity, not only once but twice,” said Newburyport coach Steve Malenfant. “And when you think about the fact that he didn’t have his surgery very long ago, and that he comes back and has been so effective for us, he’s done a tremendous job that way.”
A two-sport varsity athlete, Habib scored his first varsity touchdown playing football against Masconomet in October of his sophomore year. The very next play, the tight end was hit on the left knee, tearing both his ACL and MCL.
“That was tough because the MCL was added on,” said Habib. “I had to have surgery on the MCL, which they don’t usually do. So I had to have surgery on both, and it made the recovery time a bit longer.”
Habib spent the next eight months off the field and had an injury-free junior year playing football and baseball. But fate struck again during Habib’s fourth football game of his senior year at the Manning Bowl against St. Mary’s of Lynn when his right knee gave out on him.
“After going through it once, I knew right away that it was torn,” Habib said. “It’s a stabbing pain. But it’s not as much painful as it is frustrating. You can do linear moves, just nothing lateral.”
Hoping for the best, Habib had the knee taped up and finished the game, but there was no escaping the diagnosis: surgery and another 24 weeks on the sidelines at a minimum.
“It was tough to take,” Habib said. “I was planning on playing basketball too, so I missed all of my senior year in football and basketball, and I didn’t know if I was going to be back for baseball. It was tough to take at the time.”
Habib wasn’t going to let this second injury steal too much from him if he could help it. He went to physical therapy twice a week and hit the gym every day he didn’t have physical therapy.
“You’ve got to put the time in,” said Habib. “You get out what you put in. My goal was to get back for baseball.”
Habib may have found his greatest claim to fame while rehabbing. During the winter sports season, he and a few classmates painted their chests as either hockey jerseys or spelled out the word, “Port.” The group of friends known as the “Superfans” became a staple of Clippers hockey and basketball games.
“I figured, if I can’t play, I might as well contribute somewhere else,” Habib said. “Me, George Pantelis and a couple of other kids, who we rotated in and out, had the idea to paint our chests. We really got the fan sections behind us this year, it was a good time. The fans were nuts this winter.”
While his fellow Newburyport fans may have enjoyed it, the same could not always be said of the opposing fans.
“They weren’t too happy with me,” Habib said. “I’ve got a loud voice. It is what it is.”
Habib kept up his PT regiment, and once the body paint was washed off, he was cleared to play baseball five weeks earlier than anyone thought possible. He has allowed six earned runs in four starts.
“I love pitching,” Habib said. “There is nothing better on the baseball field. The spotlight is on you the whole time, and I like the spotlight. Yeah, sometimes it (stinks) when you don’t do so well because the spotlight is still on you. But there is nothing better than pitching a game and knowing that you did well.”
Habib has remained healthy, and he will be attending Syracuse University studying international relations and political science in the fall.
“It’s always good to have Habib with the team,” said Malenfant. “He’s diligent, hard-working and single-minded. He is a student of the game. He gets it. He brings a lot of spirit to the team.”