A Night To Forget
The phone rang in the middle of one of our classes. My rule is I only answer the phone for my two sons. My wife knows to text and, if it’s an emergency, will tell me to call. My boys both live out of the area so they have no perception as to my work time, but also, in all honesty, they are the two people that have been there through it all. “All” encompasses too much to explain so let’s just say it has been the three of us men for a long time. So for that reason, they get a lifetime pass to call during class and I tell them that I will call them back during my break.
My oldest son, Ryan, graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo this past June and in September got a ‘career’ job as a Structural Engineer for a firm in Santa Rosa, CA. He is low man on the totem pole right now and pretty much married to his job as he moves up the workforce ranks. But he has a good job, a decent salary, benefits, and is single. I have never really felt the need to be concerned about Ryan. He has a good head on his shoulders and his mother and I feel we have done a decent job preparing him for the rigors of the world. I miss him dearly but know he is going to have a tremendous life on his own.
My youngest son, Josh, is the one a few of you know. Josh is a collegiate baseball player at the University of Northern Colorado. (The NCAA calls it student-athlete; it should be athlete-student.) They are a D1 program that plays in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and are hurdling the bumps that go along with moving into a tougher conference than they’ve been used to in the past. Josh will graduate next spring with his degree.
But like many athletes, they usually say they are majoring in the sport they play. For Josh, he is majoring in baseball. And his story is an example of how this game plays with the emotions of the player and his entire family.
The phone call came the night after he pitched against TCU. Josh started the game but was on limited pitch count. This was due to pitching in 2 of the first 3 games of the season. The TCU game was the 5th game of the season and while I was happy for his start against a nationally contending team, and one that was down the road from the JUCO he played at in Weatherford, Texas, I was also concerned about the workload he had put in the previous few days. For me, it was too much. But the excitement overrode my concerns and we were all cheering for him. And that night he had pitched beautifully.
He had texted me after the game saying his forearm hurt and that he had a burning sensation right at the end of his time on the mound. Fast forward to the next night. The day had passed as normally as any other. His team was traveling back to Denver and I had not heard from him so I thought everything was fine. But when the phone rang around 7pm that night and I saw Josh’s name, something just did not feel right.
Josh was in tears. The medical staff at the school thought he may have torn his ulna collateral ligament (UCL). The dreaded Tommy John ligament made famous almost 30 years ago when Dr. Frank Jobe replaced the torn UCL of then L.A. Dodgers pitcher, Tommy John, with a new ligament. An historic surgery that has become a staple in the baseball world to this day. The term Tommy John was not what I had wanted to hear on the phone that night.
After an initial inspection by the university doctor, a second exam by Dr. Koko Eaton in Tampa, FL (the Tampa Bay Rays team doctor), and then a third opinion by Dr. Tom Noonan (the Colorado Rockies team doctor), the diagnosis was a torn UCL requiring surgery and 12 months of rehab. There were many tears that night and the next week leading up to surgery. It was hard to blame anybody or any one thing. All Josh knew was he had done more work than anyone else on his team (a fact that was confirmed by his coaches) and was probably one of the Texas Baseball Ranches hardest workers ever (a fact confirmed by owners Ron and Jill Wolforth), only to be told his dream of playing baseball might very well be over.
Where Do We Go From Here
As a parent, you would do anything for your child. At that moment on the phone, I prayed that it would all go away, that I would do anything to keep my child’s dream alive. To hear my son apologize over and over was one of the saddest things I have ever endured. I locked the door to my office and texted my trusted helper, Warren, to say I would be outside to help with the class as soon as I could compose myself and get Josh’s mind out of the state he was in.
Many emotions arise and many thoughts run through your mind when your child’s goal or dream is seemingly suddenly gone because of a single moment in time. Now, it is not fair to say that this one pitch was that one moment. It is safe to say it was the cumulative effect of several years of throwing, pitching and doing your best to recover that gets you to this point. There were mechanical inefficiencies we worked on with Josh numerous times to the best of our ability to improve and get right. And apparently all it got him was a bum elbow.
However, upon reflection, I found this might be an epiphany-type moment that could spare many of our students from having to go through the same despair we did. Before you conclude we might be a little sadistic in our thought process, remember that whenever any of us at ThrowZone has had to deal with a student getting injured, and in this case a family member, it shines a light on our understanding about what causes injury and how can we help our players with these issues that have become so commonplace in the baseball world.
We have researched and spoken at length with many of the top coaches, instructors, and medical personnel among others who have experienced these injuries. We feel we have advanced to the next level in our business’ evolution by providing a service that no one else in our area, let alone in the western U.S., offers. One that will help everyone with injury reduction without compromising our goal of throwing with higher velocity and improved command.
Though Josh may have had to personally endure the injury and the ramifications that come with it, we all benefit in the form of the better teaching, techniques and answers to questions that have eluded us in the past. And speaking for Josh, I know that he would agree with me.
A Moment To Be Proud
I finished talking with Josh around 7:30. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. In all honesty, I just wanted him to not be alone and feel that his world was crashing down around him. However, around 9:15, he called again. Class had ended and I quickly answered the phone. And in 30 seconds, it seemed all the world’s problems had gone away.
“Dad,” he said, “I know it’s only been an hour since we talked but I want you to know that I am done crying and feeling sorry for myself. It’s doing me no good and I don’t want you and Mom to feel sorry for me either. I am getting the surgery done and I am going to be back on the mound next season. And I know that I am going to look back and see that there is a reason for this happening.”
There are really no words to express my feelings at that moment. But I think I realized I wouldn’t have to worry about him anymore. He had grown up and that is what we ultimately want for every one of our children.
(To give you an update, Josh’s rehab is going beautifully; his brace comes off after next week. He has begun lower half weight lifting. He starts throwing in mid-July and will go to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area to work with my good friend and pitching rehab specialist Randy Sullivan of the Armory Pitching academy to get back on the mound. He will pitch to batters in December and be ready for opening day.
We all cannot wait for that moment and will shed tears of joy for him instead of sorrow).
We want to be that teacher, motivator, and mentor for your child when it comes to baseball. The knowledge we have gained is tremendous and continues to grow. The information is better, to the point where the process of evolving from a beginning pitcher to one who throws with confidence makes others ask, “Boy, who does your son work with?”
It is near and dear to our hearts to work with you. Our motivation is greater than anyone else’s because we have gone through the good and the bad, the highs and the lows of this game. For both me and my son as well as for Warren and his son – who, by the way, should be pitching in a MLB game within the next week!
Our classes are going strong and have become even better in the last six weeks. We are busy and continue to work on offering more every day to your player. We are even more excited about our 8 week summer class that will begin on June 16th, three times a week for 2 ½ hours each session. It will feature all the velocity enhancement, baseball strength training, and arm care and conditioning techniques that cannot be rivaled. We have students ranging in age from 9 to 22 years old coming in from all over Southern California to train with us for this class. Go to throwzone.com and click on the summer camp button for more details.
Finally, a sneak peak into the ThrowZone future: We will be offering a two-day clinic on August 8th and 9th with nationally known physical therapist and fellow academy owner Randy Sullivan from the The Armory Power Pitching Academy in Brandon, Florida! He’ll be working with players on their mobility, flexibility and constraints in the game of baseball. More information is to come, but it will be an exciting exploration of an untapped area of the game that causes more injuries to players today than ever before.
And, from October 17th through the 19th the Texas Baseball Ranch with Coach Ron Wolforth will once again be part of our 6th annual Southern California boot camp. We sell out every year for this event. Coach Wolforth will also be hosting a special coaching clinic the night before the boot camp on Thursday, October 16th. We’ll share the specifics on this event toward the middle of May.
In the meantime, we look forward to hearing from you regarding all of ThrowZone’s activities and plan on making the remainder of this year one of the biggest and best we’ve ever created when it comes to baseball learning environments. We hope you’ll join us!
Until next time,