Cherry A Worker (In More Ways Than One)

MESA, Ariz. -- Six months ago, Rocky Cherry was enjoying a brief taste of success in the early stages of his first Double-A season. Now, the Cubs pitching prospect has found a new profession, at least temporarily--at Home Depot.

That's where Cherry works when he's not rehabbing his right elbow in Mesa, home of Cubs Spring Training and the organization's top rehab facilities. In the third start of his season back on April 21, Cherry faced only two hitters before making an abrupt exit. He threw eight pitches, suffering a torn elbow ligament that required Tommy John surgery in early May.

"Since the season is over, I've started working at Home Depot," Cherry said. "[Director of Player Development] Oneri Fleita said it was OK for some of us to get a job on the side. I work in the paint department here, so it gives me something to do and I'm learning quite a lot."

The art of paint has been an area of expertise in the Cherry family for many years. Cherry's father and uncle co-own "Cherry Paint," a family operated business in Dallas, Texas for the last 30 years.

Working at Home Depot is not the first job Cherry has held down since the elbow operation took place, either. Throughout the summer, he helped his father estimate jobs online. Since he was required to stay in Mesa throughout the summer, Cherry's father, a commercial paint contractor, sent his son a new computer to help with the process.

"I got a few jobs for him, which is good and kind of pays for my salary and all of the time and effort I put in," Cherry said. "That let a monkey off my back. It's all internet-based. It worked out really well and kept me busy."

As for the elbow, Cherry's rehab is on schedule and free of setbacks thus far.

"So far my rehab has been going great," Cherry said. "I've been on schedule, haven't had any setbacks and when you don't, it's a good thing. I feel like I'm 100 percent, although I know I'm not so I have to mentally make a note of that to keep myself from going all out. It's going really good and I thank God for that."

Once Cherry got over the initial fear of having to undergo "Tommy John," he realized that like a lot of pitchers, he could come back even stronger than before the operation. Entering the year, Cherry was 12-12 with a 4.07 ERA in two previous seasons with the Cubs. A 12th-round draft pick coming off an injury plagued season at Oklahoma his final year in Norman, Cherry combined to go 7-2 between Class-A Boise and Lansing in his professional debut season in 2003, posting a 2.38 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a .193 average.

The following year at Daytona, the magic never quite clicked. Cherry was 5-10 against Florida State League opponents with a plus-five ERA and 138 hits allowed in 124 2/3 innings. Despite the disappointing numbers, Cherry still earned a promotion to West Tenn to begin 2005. When he reported to Spring Training, he immediately began working with Diamond Jaxx pitching coach Alan Dunn.

"When I started working with Alan, we really worked on keeping my front side and my head still so that I'd be able to focus more on the target," Cherry said. "I have a tendency to fall off with my front arm and so I fly open. When you do that, you show the ball early and kind of drag your arm through the zone and have to cut it off toward the end, because you're not able to extend all the way out and reach that far extension point."

"From cutting it off to getting it all the way out there is a big difference in velocity, as well as movement and just the overall life of the fastball," Cherry said. "My pitches were running side to side instead of up and down. It worked well and something just clicked. The good thing is I finished on a high note (at West Tenn) and had some good things working. I'm still focusing on those same things. If I can get that down, I feel I'll be good to go."

With Cherry still rehabbing his elbow, he's obviously limited. Limited, but not completely on the shelf.

"We focus a lot on shoulders," Cherry said, "plus a lot of scapular work, which is getting you in the right position or posture when you throw so that you can throw the same way longer with less effort kind of. It puts you in a good position. We're also working on conditioning to get new blood flow into your arm, and of course weight-training."

Cherry says he should be ready to pitch by Spring Training and possibly even break camp with one of the Cubs' minor league affiliates to start the new year. In the meantime, if you're ever in the paint department at the right Home Depot store in Mesa, stop by and say hello.

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