Published May 29. 2013 4:00AM
It was one night last week that little Jackson Peluso, 21 months old, wore this look of complete contentment, firmly entrenched in daddy's arms after the ballgame. There's no bigger hero to a little boy than daddy in a baseball uniform, especially when the little guy is a regular at practices and games and has mimicked his pitching form, off the wrong leg and all, for all the players to see.
Daddy, otherwise known as Art Peluso, the baseball coach at Waterford High, wore a pretty happy look, too, watching his players share the league championship trophy. Peluso, meanwhile, was holding the only thing that's mattered to him, other than Jenny, his wife, since Aug. 4, 2011.
The night Jackson was born.
And almost died.
How ironic, too, that Peluso, doused with the water bucket moments earlier, as punctuation to the league championship, was shivering. The boys got him good, too, leaving their coach soaked and wet and now the victim of the night's rain and wind.
It was ironic because Art Peluso remembers the days, five of them, when Jackson was a few days old, shivering himself, on what they call a "cooling table" in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island.
They had to drop his body temperature to 88.5 degrees to combat what befell Jackson Peluso the night of his birth. The night the Pelusos knew would change their lives. Except there's just no scripting the specter of death on an occasion that's so full of life.
Jackson Peluso was to be born July 24, 2011, which would have been his dad's 40th birthday. Sure, Art Peluso started this fatherhood thing a little later than most, but, hey, sharing a birthday with sonny boy belongs under the subdivision, "worth the wait."
"Then, nothing," Art said Tuesday afternoon, not long after his Lancers advanced in the state tournament, recalling his son's unwillingness to enter the world.
Even a week later, doctors at Westerly Hospital induced labor for Jenny Peluso. Again, nothing. It wasn't until a week later that doctors assured the Pelusos would be leaving the hospital with a baby.
"They tried to induce again and he wasn't having it," Art said. "So they had to give my wife an emergency C-section. They deliver the baby and take him right to this little triage center. Then I see the doctor shaking his head. Thirty seconds later, he takes off with the baby and no one's saying anything."
Jackson Peluso aspirated, or inhaled, meconium, a newborn child's first fecal excretion.
It got into his lungs and bloodstream.
"His chest was exploding, he was trying to get air," Art Peluso said.
By 3 a.m., a doctor at Women & Infants delivered Art Peluso this message: "Your son could die."
Jackson was eight hours old.
"He had to get through the first 48 hours," Art said. "After that, he still had chest X-Rays, MRIs. I keep this photo with me when everyday life is getting to me of Jackson hooked up to every piece of machinery and tubes sticking out of him."
His body temperature had to be lowered in the cooling study for five days.
Even as the news got encouraging, the Pelusos were told Jackson could have a learning disability or a speech impediment. They wouldn't know until he was 18 months old and could meet all the benchmarks, Art said.
"It was eight days before we could hold him," Art said. "It gives you a different perspective on life."
Happily, Jackson Peluso is perfectly healthy today. He was given a cognitive exam at 18 months old and met the benchmarks. If you didn't know what happened to him, you wouldn't.
"Some other kids aren't as lucky," Art Peluso said.
Peluso has learned much from his little boy. He imparts the wisdom daily to his players.
"It's changed me," he said. "I'm the kind of guy who likes everything in its place. Now, you know, it's just not all that important. I tell the kids that I have high expectations of them. But I also know they don't come here looking to make three errors and strike out three times.
"In the past," Art Peluso said, "I might have said, 'you can't come here and do that.' Now it's like, 'we'll deal with it.'"
Sort of like Tuesday. The Lancers, expected to win — and worse, in a town with nitpicky expectations — were locked in a steel cage match with Torrington.
"In the old days, I would have been pacing and barking at the umpire," Peluso said.
That's a man before he comes face to face with his infant son's death.
Soon, Peluso watched as Connor Lewis doubled home a run in the sixth and winning pitcher Jordan Hamler, whose pitching motion Jackson mimics, worked out of trouble in the seventh.
Then Art Peluso went home to his wife and son.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.