This series of columns, titled The Journey, will highlight stories and memories from college baseball players across the United States.
Written by Davis Salzman, Marymount California University, Pitcher
When people think of sports, everyone thinks of all of the emotions that come along with the game such as happiness, inspiration, and exhilaration. For some people it becomes their life. They are either waiting for the time when they could run to a TV and watch, or go to the park and play with their friends. Once their day of sports is over, they dream of being just like their idols and wish one day their dreams come true. It is a temporary escape from the everyday stresses and it is a way you are able to express yourself unlike no other.
For me, baseball has been my entire life ever since I was three years old and it has never left my side, whether I realize it or not. It is easy for me to remember all of the moments that baseball has been there for me, such as when I committed to play baseball at Elmira College as a senior in high school. I will always remember the day I committed, it was full of so many positive emotions and I was so relieved my baseball career was taking the next step.
To this day, I still thank Corey Paluga for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to play college baseball. While it is easy to remember all of the times baseball was there for me, what about the times when it wasn’t (or so I thought) and was nowhere to be seen? I have had plenty of those times, but the most prominent moment of my baseball career so far has been the one I am about to explain.
As people know, injuries are a part of the game, but nobody knows when they will happen. Sure, I have had my share of tight hamstrings, sprained ankles, and sore shoulders, but those are manageable. And as a pitcher, your arm is not going to feel like it is fresh every day, so you have to learn how to manage pain and soreness.
This past summer I was playing catch and I felt something very strange.
As I raised my arm to throw I felt like somebody flicked me right on the inside of my elbow. Immediately after that feeling, I felt my arm burn for a split second. After that small episode, I notice the ball I threw landed 20 feet off to the right of my target. My arm felt like a ton of bricks when I tried to raise it again. I stopped throwing for the day and went inside to ice my arm and take care of it. A couple of days later and I tried to play catch again and sure enough that feeling in my elbow was still there.
I decided to not throw for an entire week. While I felt no pain working out or doing anything else, I knew something was wrong. A week later I tried to throw again and this time the pain was gone, but I noticed I could not hit my throwing partner in the chest to save my life. Every ball I threw had nothing behind it.
I made an appointment at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedics in Los Angeles to get my elbow looked at and I initially thought I had a really bad sprain, but when the diagnosis was read it felt like I had been read a death sentence: full tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in my right arm. Tommy John Surgery was required if I chose to play baseball again. I was at a complete loss for words and before the doctor had a chance to say he was sorry about the news, I started to tear up. When I made it home I locked myself in my room thinking about if it was my time to hang up my cleats for good. I was 20 years old and faced the fact that baseball could be all over. I thought my life was ending.
After I was done feeling sorry for myself, I decided to make a tough decision. I realized that baseball had never left my side even though it seemed like it was gone forever.
Would this be the first season I would not play ever since I was a kid? Yes, yes it would.
Would I have a chance to come back and come back better than ever before? Yes, that is a possibility.
Is it still possible for me to finish out college baseball and make a push to get signed after I am done? Yes, many people have done that before.
Would I be able to use my playing experience to help with my life after baseball? Yes, definitely.
So on August 4, 2017, I underwent Tommy John Surgery with little to no complications thanks to Dr. Michael Banffy and his team at Kerlan-Jobe. Aside from feeling like I had been mauled by a bear for a couple of days, it was the start of the long road back.
I had trouble with tasks such as eating because I barely had one hand to use. Taking a shower seemed like it was an impossible mission with trash bags on my arms and I had to use my mouth to get rubber bands around the bags so that water would not get in. I was forced to walk around with an arm that looked like I borrowed it from a Transformer.
Although it was difficult to get back to doing daily tasks, I knew I was going to be ok. Physical therapy was sometimes aggravating because I felt weak all of the time (I later found out I had lost around 10 pounds since surgery). With all of the little pains of getting the surgery and starting rehab, slowly but surely it was getting better every day.
I transferred to Marymount California University for the coming season, am apart of the baseball team, and find myself in the early stages of throwing once again.
Throwing again after surgery is as much fun and exciting as it is aggravating; something I have done my whole life has to be re-taught to me. I never thought I would have to teach myself how to throw a baseball again, and to be perfectly honest, it is a lot harder than one would think. At one point less than a year ago I could clear a football field throwing as hard as I could, but here I am today struggling to reach a target 40 feet away.
During my journey I have learned that over time I will be ok; baseball isn’t going anywhere whether I am playing or not.