Nutley East All-Star Buscanan breaks gender barrier, overcomes illness
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Natalia Buscanan was a little more than a week old when she had to endure the first obstacle of her life.
“It was the most traumatizing moment of my life,” said Roe Buscanan, Natalia’s mother. “She had stopped breathing and was given last rites.”
Young Natalia was suffering from a critical coarctation of her aorta and hyplastic left heart syndrome, a condition that required open heart surgery, even at that age.
“I walked out of the emergency room and I heard the call for the device to bring her back,” said Chris Buscanan, Natalie’s father. “I just happened to be there. We had two choices, either bring her to New York or Philadelphia for surgery. With all the medical advances they had, we made sure she was in New York.”
Both Roe and Chris imagined the worst.
“We thought we were going to have to amputate her limbs to save her life,” Roe Buscanan said. “You name it. We went through every sort of emotion. It all ran right through me.”
“We were ready to let the professionals take over, but we were told that there was a possibility she wouldn’t make it,” Chris Buscanan said. “I was so positive that she was going to be fine. I just wanted to make it through this.”
Fast forward six years and young Natalia had to endure yet another heart surgery.
“She was doing gymnastics and started to complain about a shortage of breath,” Roe Buscanan said. “We took her to a cardiologist and they did a stress test.”
This time, Natalia suffered from a sub-aortic membrane which stopped the blood flow to her heart.
“We were driving to NYU Hospital and Natalia asked me, ‘Mommy, am I going to die?’” Roe said. “Inside, I was hysterical, but I told her she was going to be okay. She then asked for a puppy.”
Natalia made it through the second surgery with flying colors.
“It was such a relief,” Chris Buscanan said. “It was like a ton of bricks being taken off my chest. I had a feeling she would come out fine. I knew it. I just knew it wasn’t going to be a problem. I was pretty confident.”
Fast forward another six years and Natalia is now a healthy and happy 12-yearold. She can’t compete in a lot of sports that have contact, but she is able to play baseball – and play it well.
So well, in fact, that Natalia was selected to the Nutley East Little League All-Star team that competed last weekend in the New Jersey State Championships.
Yes, Natalia – a girl – playing on a boys’ 12-year-old All-Star team competing for a state championship, with a chance to perhaps go to Williamsport and the Little League World Series.
Natalia’s love for baseball started five years ago, when she used to watch her older brother Christian (headed for Seton Hall Prep in the fall) play.
“Honestly, it was all about Chris,” Natalia said. “I wanted to be like Chris. I watched him play and he was a good player. I started to like baseball better.”
Natalia wanted no part of playing girls’ softball. She wanted baseball and the chance to be like the boys.
“Baseball was more challenging to me,” Natalia said. “I felt more comfortable.”
Natalia is the lone girl to play Little League baseball in all of Nutley. She was also the lone girl at the state championships.
Unfortunately, Nutley East lost two games in the state tournament in Wallington, getting eliminated by perennial state power Toms River East American, 7-4, Saturday night. Both of Nutley’s losses were heartbreakers. Their win of 14-1 came over Wayne National on Friday.
Natalia said that she was somewhat apprehensive when she started playing with the boys at age 9.
“I was kind of afraid playing, especially the first year, because I wanted to be able to compete,” Natalia said. “I was afraid of what people might say. If I made a mistake, they’d say, `Ah, she’s a girl. She should be doing something else.’ I think that forced me to want to become a better player. I work harder to prove that I belong.”
When Natalia was selected to be on the Nutley East All- Star team, she was shocked.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Buscanan said. “People picked me and I was flattered. I thought the other kids were good and I wasn’t.”
Buscanan played second base and the outfield for the All-Stars. She contributed with two doubles against Bloomfield and a double and single against Newark in the District 8 tournament.
“I felt like I was one of the boys,” Natalia Buscanan said.
“The other players are accepting of her,” said Chris Buscanan, who serves as one of the coaches for the Nutley East All-Stars. “The issue of her being a girl was never addressed. The other kids on the team call her ‘Tank.’”
Oh, sure. Every girl would want that name, right?
“I like the name,” Natalia Buscanan said. “I guess it’s because I have power and I’m tough.”
Tank, it is.
“Most of the time, people don’t realize she’s a girl,” Chris said.
So does Buscanan like the fact that she’s a trailblazer, a one-of-a-kind?
“I do like it,” Natalia said. “I have a little bit of pride. I’m still nervous a little.”
Buscanan hopes that she serves as a positive role model, for someone who overcame two open heart surgeries and still competes in Little League with and against the boys.
“I like that it might motivate other girls,” Buscanan said. “I feel very fortunate to have this chance. I’m very lucky that I’m alive and lucky that I can play sports. I know that there are others who can’t do it, so I’m lucky to be here.”
Natalia reluctantly realizes that her baseball playing days are probably over. She will more than likely have to move to softball next season.
“I think that’s in her best interest,” Chris said. “I think it makes the most sense moving forward. But I still can’t believe what she’s accomplished. She never stops. She gets up early on Sunday morning and goes to a baseball hitting clinic with the boys. She’s not tired and not afraid of the drills. She’s comfortable showing people what she’s all about. I always tell her and others, once they step onto the field, they’re All-Stars.”
Added Chris: “She’s overcome so many challenges in her life. But she always gives 100% in everything she does. She’s tough.”
Like a tank.
“I’m still nervous about anything she does, but I can’t believe all she’s capable of doing,” Roe said. “After all the surgeries and all the battles she’s been through, she’s able to play and that’s great.”
It’s actually a miracle that Natalia Buscanan is healthy and happy and playing Little League baseball with and against the best boys in New Jersey – a miracle that came true.