1. News

Palm Harbor softball lover dies after being hit during game

Greg Fusco and his wife, Taylor, shown in this photo from their wedding website, hadn't been married a month when he was hit in the head by a softball near Jacksonville. Fusco, of Palm Harbor, died in the hospital about two weeks later. [The Knot]
Published Dec. 25, 2017

Greg Fusco lived on the softball fields.

He traveled around the state for weekend tournaments. He practiced with teammates after his day job as a maintenance worker for the city of Dunedin. He met his wife through the sport, proposing to her on a field with the ring inside a halved yellow softball.

"He was the player everybody wanted on his team because he was a great guy," said Mike Ogliaruso, a lieutenant for the Clearwater Police Department who used to play with Fusco.

So it came as a shock, and a uniquely painful tragedy, when Fusco, 37, died Sunday about two weeks after taking a line drive to the head. According to a St. Johns County Sheriff's Office report, the ball struck Fusco of Palm Harbor in the left temple while he was playing a tournament Dec. 2 near Jacksonville. A friend said he was pitching at the time.

He was unconscious at first but came to by the time the ambulance arrived, the report says, noting he appeared dazed. Fusco was flown to UF Health Jacksonville for treatment with what the report said were non-life-threatening injuries.

A GoFundMe campaign started by a friend to raise money for his wife, Taylor, said he had suffered a skull fracture and was rushed into surgery. His recovery looked promising at first.

"I was worried, but I was confident," said Taylor Lang, a friend who thought Fusco's well-known stubbornness would help him pull through.

But his condition later turned for the worst. Doctors pronounced him dead early Sunday. The cause of death is unclear; an autopsy report wasn't complete this week.

Adding to the tragedy was the timing. Fusco had gotten married not even a month before. The couple had just returned from their honeymoon in Hawaii when he was hospitalized, Lang, 24, said. According to the couple's wedding website, they met on the fields while he was playing ball with her dad.

While they were dating, she picked out a canary diamond ring at a jewelry store but put it back when she saw the price. Fusco returned later and bought it as a surprise. He proposed to her after a tournament in front of friends.

"It was something that everyone was envious of," Lang said of their relationship. "It's rare."

The outpouring from the Tampa Bay softball community was swift as news spread of his hospitalization, then his death. Friends and businesses organized several fundraisers and charity tournaments, including one today starting at 8 a.m. at the Woodlawn Sports Complex in St. Petersburg.

The incident has also led to at least one organization changing its rules. International Slow Pitch Softball, an organization with about 15,000 players under its umbrella, added the "Greg Fusco Rule," requiring pitchers to wear face masks. If pitchers opt out, they must sign a waiver of liability.

"We're just trying to be proactive so this doesn't happen again," said Commissioner Manuel T. Ferrero III, who was already considering instating the rule after a pitcher in Colorado lost his eye this year under similar circumstances.

A recording of the 911 call provides some clues as to what happened in the minutes after the ball hit Fusco.

"He went out cold. He hit the ground out cold," a man told a 911 operator. "It knocked him out."

Softball and baseball generally have a lower rate of injury than, say, football, said Dr. Eric Coris, a family and sports medicine professor at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. But because the ball is hard and travels fast, the rate of catastrophic injury is higher.

"That's often when the ball is coming right back at you," he said.

The risk is higher if the athlete has had an injury, even a minor one, before. The Sheriff's Office report mentioned that Fusco had sustained another head injury earlier that day.

Further complications can happen during hospitalization, such as blood clots, infections and pneumonia, Coris said.

Ogliaruso, who has played on a Clearwater team for years and used to pitch in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system, said the game has gotten faster over the years. The equipment has become more powerful, but the field dynamics have stayed the same.

Still, both he and Lang used the same word to describe the situation: surreal. Some people take the sport more seriously than others, but for most, softball is a fun, social activity, Ogliaruso said.

That's how Fusco treated it. He was the kind of guy who showed up, always smiling, to a game wearing a uniform from another team he'd just played with.

"That's why this tragic event is hitting everybody kind of oddly," Ogliaruso said, "because it's … surreal this kid is not going to be around anymore from playing a game he loved."

Contact Kathryn Varn at or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.


  1. Joshua Michael Nichols, 21, was arrested by Pasco County Sheriff's deputies on Saturday in connection to the early morning shooting death of an unidentified man during an argument outside a Spring Hill home. [Pasco County Sheriff's Office] ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    One person is in custody. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
  2. Yesterday• Pasco
    Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, received his third “Paul Harris Award.” the highest recognition from the Rotary Club, on Aug. 15. The pin was presented to Dr. Musunuru, a nationally-recognized cardiologist, by Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins in recognition of his humanitarian and philanthropic services to the people of Pasco County and the State of Florida for nearly 40 years. Pictured: Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, (left) and Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins. Jemith Rosa/Hudson Rotary Club
    News and notes about your neighbors
  3. A Lancaster County Sheriff's deputy walks around the Old Skool Sports Bar and Grill, the scene of a shooting early in the morning, north of Lancaster, S.C. on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  Lancaster County Sherriff's Office said in a statement that the agency was investigating a fatal shooting that also injured several people.  (Jessica Holdman/The Post And Courier via AP) JESSICA HOLDMAN  |  AP
    Two adult males were shot and killed.
  4. Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, right, listens to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, during the Youth Climate Summit at United Nations headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez) EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ  |  AP
    Swedish 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg started the climate strike movement with her lone protest in front of her country’s parliament.
  5. Stay with for the latest news and updates. Times
    She was not in a crosswalk when she was hit, troopers say.
  6. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  7. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. JAMAL THALJI  |  Tampa Bay Times
    John Clark used a shotgun to kill his mother and another man. Then he returned to the crime scene with a shotgun, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  8. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  9. The main exhibit center at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa once stirred the imagination with dinosaurs and stars. Now, it's empty, but on the verge of rebirth as a movie studio.
    The County Commission has set aside $2 million for the project as the Film Commission studies the demand for it.
  10. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP
    Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian gas company.