By TED SILLANPAA
on Twitter @TedSillanpa
My 17-year-old son pitched a scoreless inning, striking out two, in his official return to the mound 11 months after he underwent elbow reconstruction surgery. He’s one of those elite-level prospects who was being recruited by some Pac-12 Conference baseball coaches even while he was rehabilitating his elbow over the winter. So, to say he’s back at 100 percent of what folks believe he can be would be untrue. Just to see him on the mound, getting hitters out and enjoying competition is a tribute to modern surgical procedures.
Sports parenting note: A dad’s view of the game changes when just knowing his son is pain free for the first time in years.
NFL star Adrian Peterson returned from potential career-ending knee surgery in nine months to have a record-setting season. NBA star Derrick Rose might return to action less than a year after he had knee surgery. Thus, they join every other athlete who comes back to the game more quickly than we expected with a cloud hanging over them. We’ve grown to believe a knee injury or a pitcher’s elbow surgery means an athlete will be out a year, at least, and then spend another year getting to full strength. Since Peterson and others are coming back as good as ever in months, we’re rushing to assume they used performance enhancing drugs. That’s not fair.
My 17-year-old son is a 6-foot-2, 180-pound junior (who doesn’t pitch for an Empire high school). His surgery was done by Dr. Arthur Ting, a noted sports surgeon who works out of Fremont. The quality of work Dr. Ting did in replacing my son’s ulnar collateral ligament is the first reason my son was throwing 5 1/2 months after surgery and pitching off a mound 7 months following the procedure. My son is a hard worker who wanted to get back on the mound, so he put in the time … rehabilitated wisely with Dr. Ting’s guidance … and didn’t push things. He apparently did the right things to get back into a game far quicker than I ever dreamed he would.
My son didn’t use PEDs. Even if we’d had access to and money for state-of-the-art PEDs, he just wouldn’t use them. He’s grown up in the Steroids Era and has decided the risk isn’t worth the potential reward. He just had a first-rate surgeon rebuild his elbow and then spent months following doctors orders. If an athlete devotes himself to working hard at returning to competition following surgery these days, there’s no limit to how quickly they can come back. Imagine what a star with access to NFL or NBA rehab specialists can do if my kid came back rehabbing on his own after 11 months?
My son didn’t want a bunch of sports rehab people messing with him, so after initial work to get range of motion back — he dealt only with his doctor to chart a course for his return to the mound. Doctors like Ting know so much more about the psychological part of the rehab process now. So, my son knew in advance the emotional hurdles he would have to clear. He knew that he would try to protect the elbow, even when he’d been given a complete bill of health. It’s easier to get back to proper throwing mechanics when he’d been warned of every single thing a rehabbing pitcher typically feels and thinks.
Twenty years ago, surgeons fixed a ligament injury and the athlete was left to wonder what every post-op twinge meant. They didn’t know as much then about building up supporting muscles or about, say, how the shoulder needs special attention after a pitcher sits idle for 6 months after elbow surgery. Now, they know … nothing that Peterson or Rose faced was likely a surprise to them.
Dr. Ting explained that my son wouldn’t come back with the 90 mph fastball people who know more about pitching than I do figured he’d have at this point. When Ting said that the elbow isn’t intended to throw fastball after fastball after fastball, my son prepared to get hitters out with his other pitchers. Dr. Ting didn’t gloss over reality. He told my kid he’d get whatever his best fastball becomes back by this summer, but that he had to know that he’d make his life a lot easier if he didn’t come back as the flame-throwing high school pitcher who relies on fastballs he throws hard, harder and hardest.
My son’s a long way from being the best he can be, I imagine. But, he’s back pitching pretty well for his high school team well under a year after elbow surgery. He didn’t use PEDs, so we shouldn’t assume that big-time athletes use them when they come back far more quickly from surgery than athletes did in what now seems like the Stone Age of sports medicine.