It’s true— when you’re eighteen, you think you’re exempt from everything. Usually that relates to chores, hard work, schoolwork… Basically anything to do with the word ‘work’ or the idea of actually breaking a sweat. You remember, and if you’re a kid, you’ll get there soon. I wasn’t too afraid of work. I mean, yeah, I’d argue with my mom about taking out the trash, but for the most part I loved putting in the effort to make things go as smoothly as possible. That wasn’t any truer than when I set foot on a baseball field.
As a kid, I struggled with physical awkwardness like a great deal do. I come from a town loaded with big kids; your ideal natural athletes as they’re locally known. So, a skinny kid like me has to bust his chops to try and steal two innings in the field or an at-bat during the Thursday night Little League game. There aren’t a lot of kids willing to do that. But I was one of them. I played t-ball and I’d even been to a few pro games when I was younger, but around the time I was 10 my eyes were opened to the world of baseball.
It was Omar Vizquel poster giveaway day at AT&T on June 23rd, 2008. I paid for four tickets for my family, and off to the yard we went. I got that poster (yes, it’s still on my wall), a pennant, one of those mini-bats, and a ball from batting practice. I saw a homerun, and a 6-4 win over the visiting Nats. Plus, I got to stay up past my bed time. I felt like that game was meant just for me. Yeah, I was hooked.
Of course I’d work hard for something I loved as much as baseball. Why wouldn’t I? I scratched and clawed for 7 years, fighting for a little playing time here and there. I didn’t mind, this was something I loved to do. And before I knew it I was a 6’5” starting pitcher throwing in the upper 80’s as an incoming junior in high school. I had been told that I had excellent endurance, good off-speed, good command, a pitching mind to match (you know, the Greg Maddux kind), and that same old work ethic. That last one I was sure of. I’d consider myself pretty humble, but yeah- it was paying off. I was excited; I was enrolled in a velocity class, I was thickening out, I felt as if I were really coming into my own as a pitcher. Just in time for college scouts, too. But back to that teenage-exemptment thing… I never thought I’d get hurt. I couldn’t. I had my mechanics down. I took care of my arm. Yeah, I threw a lot, but never more than what I knew I could handle. Not me. But it happened.
I was throwing a private bullpen for a D1 college coach on a chilly January night. Weeks of anticipation were being released as I warmed up with the school’s catcher. This was my first college experience. I was a little nervous, but in the good way. I finished throwing and headed to the pen beyond the left field gate. I was throwing pretty decently. Granted, it was around 40 degrees, but I was happy with myself.
We were just about done when the coach said he’d like to try something. He grabbed my hand, and changed my grip on the curve I had been throwing. Ever. So. Slightly. It felt strange in my hand and real tight in my upper forearm, but of course I complied. What was I supposed to do? Tell a previous College World Series Champion pitching coach no? It took one pitch. I threw the ball, and I felt a pop in my elbow. The ball missed the glove badly, and I had no strength in my arm. I shrugged it off, sucked it up, and I threw this pitch four more times, each one as bad as the previous. We headed inside, and he talked to me. I don’t remember any of what he told me. I was still thinking about my throbbing elbow.
The doctor prescribed me some medicine, and I took a couple weeks off from physical activity as advised. I figured I had strained something, or maybe just over used it. Inflammation, inflammation, inflammation. That seemed like the only word I heard from the physician. I figured I was just being a baby, considering that I had never had arm problems before.
So, I loaded up on painkillers and icy hot and scrapped together my first varsity season. Everything still seemed off. My arm hurt. I’m talking I threw as little as I could at practice. Still I kept quiet, at most mumbling something about it to my concerned parents. My velocity was way down, and my command was getting worse every start. I had no endurance. Eventually, the school season ended, and I prepared mentally for the summer. This was supposed to be the big one. The one where I commit to a school, and finally give back to my loved ones. (Not that they expected me to, they’re really wonderful and self-less people who love watching me throw). Everyone told me “this is it”. I couldn’t stop. I had worked so hard and come so far.
The first summer game I threw was my last. I got through an inning and two thirds. As I walked off that mound in Scottsdale, Arizona— ironic, I know— I couldn’t take it anymore. I scheduled an appointment with a sports doctor, who after three months of therapy and a whole lot of MRI’s, X-rays, cortisone shots, and waiting time, referred me to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. It was my Ulnar Collateral Ligament that I felt pop that day. A small tear. Or maybe it’s the six Ulnar Collateral Nerves surrounding it. We’re still testing to be 100% sure.
Now, I sit here writing to you waiting for a surgery date. The words Tommy John ring around my head, just like they do every time I bring up pitching now. One way or another, something’s gotta happen. Because the bottom line is: my arm is not the same, and I can’t fix it. Trust me, I’ve tried. I’m missing my senior year. I don’t like to talk about this whole thing too much, but those who know everything offer their wishes and condolences. Lots try to offer advice. To be quite honest, I just want this to be over. I want to be able to throw, to workout, to compete again. I want to stand on a 10-inch hill by myself and throw a 5 ounce white-and-red ball. Pain free. I don’t want scouts all over me. I don’t want to be the talk of the town. I don’t want a crowd. I want baseball back.
It’s actually pretty funny how much a little perspective can do. You hear cliché sayings about not knowing what you have till it’s gone, but they’re really all pretty true for the most part. My dream went from being a D1 high school commit, to being able to throw how I did a year ago. Shoot, just to be able to throw at all. I don’t want to impress coaches, intimidate opponents, or flabbergast teammates. I just want to pitch. For myself. For the people who have supported me through this mess. I just want to pitch.
I’m sure that competitor’s DNA is stored deep in some mosquito’s belly in the amber mines of my soul, where it will remain until it’s time to bring that beast back to life, but for now my focus is to remain as active in the game as I can. As tough as it is to watch others do what you love to do most, it’s actually kinda comforting. It reminds you that life goes on. Baseball goes on. I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to be a part of the Giants Farm family and the Scout Media Network, and my high school team has been kind enough to keep me on the roster to keep book and pass on any knowledge or advice I can. I’ve been graced enough to constantly be around baseball, perhaps when I need it most— and who knows, maybe this whole experience will continue to mold my vision of the sport and life in general. After all, baseball is a lifestyle, and like anything else you have to hang with it through the ups and downs. There’s always a next season...