Connecting the Dots

I’m bequeathing the blog reins to the Mrs. again for a while.  Don’t worry there’s some good parts…er, I mean some parts I wrote (found in italics)…sprinkled in there as well.

Lately we’ve gotten in the blogging mood while I’m at PT and typing while doing elbow flexion and extension exercises ad nauseam has proven messy. I’ll be back on board soon enough…until then, here’s the better half:

So why the heck are we so excited about all of this?  During that first week of ups and downs, yeses and nos, we had the opportunity to sit back and reflect on what all of this means for us and our future in baseball.

The first radiologist’s phone call was actually the toughest.   That night we had company over, so Chris took the phone call up in our bedroom.  He was taking longer than I expected so I excused myself to check on him and instead of finding him talking on the phone about rehab options, I found him lying on our bed face down in a pillow – silently crying.  He was crying hard enough that I could see his back shaking with the sobs.  While I doubt he’d really want me to tell everyone that he was bawling, the way I look at it is in that moment who wouldn’t cry if someone just gave you news that appeared as if your boyhood dreams were officially over?  I’ve seen Chris tear up here and there and even cry once or twice in our 4 years of marriage, but I’ve never seen him like this.  I climbed on his back and kissed the back of his neck while he sobbed.  As he choked back tears, he took his head out of the pillow and said, “It’s over.  It’s torn.  Baseball is over.”

For me the craziest thing was that instead of breaking down into a hot mess of tears, I instead was filled with a very calm and peaceful clarity.  For the first time in my life I actually had nothing to say, but I knew I had to do something.  So I said, “Get up.  We’re not crying over this.  Get in the car.  Let’s go watch the sunset.”

Ever feel like you’re in a dream-world and crazy-talk just starts spilling out of your mouth?  Don’t try to tell me this has never happened to you.  While we were watching the sunset from our daze of a dream-world, staring blankly into the distance, a thought popped in our heads, “This isn’t what you think.  Baseball isn’t over.  Rather, it’s just the beginning.”

Try to wrap your heads around that one – 28 years old, highest level AAA, independent ball, tommy john.  Just the beginning, my ass.

We tried to put the reality of the situation in perspective – it just seemed a little too far-fetched to actually believe this crazy thought, but then suddenly new questions quickly started coming up, one after the other, as quickly as we could say them out loud.  Little by little it all started to make sense.

What if my elbow actually started deteriorating years ago without even realizing it?  This idea forced me to think back over the past few years and with surprise started recognizing more and more pieces of the puzzle starting to connect themselves.

Was the cause of my drop in velocity over the years not related to the addition of new arm slots like we had thought, but rather a deteriorating UCL instead??

I’m going to add a disclaimer here on behalf of orthopedic surgeons across America.  The Tommy John procedure in itself doesn’t make you throw harder.  Some have this misconception and want to bring their 11-year-old in to get Tommy John so he throws harder.  In my isolated case, I believe that in the past, my body was protecting itself from further injury to the UCL and in turn wouldn’t allow me to “let go” and throw hard.  If I have had 106mph in me all along, my body was only allowing me 75% throttle so to speak, because it knew that kind of force on the kinetic chain would cause further injury.  I started off in college throwing mid 80s from my low arm slot and every year for the next six years steadily dropped one or two mph each season.  It could make sense my body needed to provide more and more shelter and continue to throttle down.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Disco, but by this past season I was throwing 74-76mph.

Is that why I struggled with controlling my slider over the past couple seasons, even though it was my original go-to pitch?

It’s not a secret breaking balls put a lot of stress on the elbow.  But over the past 3 or 4 years as my slider has up and left me, I never had a reason to question if health were the cause.  I have been wracking my brain for years now on this exact issue.  I’ve likened it to dogs and cats.  My slider used to be like a well-trained dog, it was always by my side and did what I told it to do with precision and obedience.  One day (probably in 2008) I woke up and my slider was an unruly cat.  Many days I couldn’t even find it, and when I did, it had a mind of its own going seemingly wherever it pleased with emotions ranging from apathy to boredom. It made no sense, and worst of all, it made me a one-pitch pitcher. As I said, when health wasn’t a concern, the mystery was –well, a mystery. If it turns out my body’s been protecting itself from injury and holding back through the cat-ification of my slider, it’s a mystery no more.

Disco just shout across the room, “hey you should say, ‘bullet point number seven: Is that why he sucked the last two years in AAA?’”  :)

Is that why he always felt like he should be able to throw harder, but could never convince his body to actually break through that barrier?

What we find most cool about this one is that we both truly believe God gives us opportunities when we’re ready for them and not a second sooner.   In the exact moment we become ready for something, its like the ‘that was easy button’ BAM – here’s your new opportunity.  This is exactly how we feel about the torn UCL. Chris’s body must have subconsciously known it couldn’t handle a 105 mph fastball with a sub-par ligament, so it prevented him from throwing anything harder than 86 (overhand).

Maybe that blockage was fueled by a fear of not being ready or good enough for the big leagues; maybe the body knew it wasn’t ready, so it caused that fear.  The instant Chris recognized this hidden fear might be holding him back, with the help of his teammates, he dug deep to release that barrier.

It was in that very INSTANT when we feel he actually became mentally ready for the big leagues, in turn producing the fastest pitch of his life. This is the EXACT INSTANT that God smiled and BAM, hits the ‘that was easy button’, saying, “let’s blow this pop stand (er, elbow) and give you a new, stronger, and better elbow that can handle the speed you are truly capable of”.

Where can we sign up?

After all of those plausible thoughts came streaming through, one last crazy-talk idea came up:

Now what if we revolutionized recovery time for tommy john surgery by getting Chris’s elbow to miraculously be 100% in only six months after surgery instead of 10-12 months?  Imagine that?!  We could totally do it.  We have all the tools we need.  He could be ready for winter ball, throwing 120, big league spring training invite, breaks out of camp less than a year after TJ as opening day starter for the Cubbies.  (We’d even be okay if it weren’t the Cubs…. It would just be so convenient for us.  We live a mile from the stadium, we have family there, all of our friends, Tracy’s business… list goes on).

Obviously we acknowledge this last part is just pure crazy talk, but it’s what fueled us that first week through the seesaw of medical opinions and is most importantly what led us to this uber-ly influential question; the crux of our motivation:

How are we going to work together to get this elbow to heal miraculously and what do we need to do to make it happen?

2 Comments

“cat-ifcation of my slider.” lol

i agree on all points except Cubbies. we need you in Cincinnati.

i hope you come out throwing in the high 90s or more. i think my only lament is that there was no two-syllable, chronologically appropriate music genre to go with that speed. we can’t call you Grunge Hayes. doesn’t fit. Seattle Hayes is a no-go; if you don’t play for the Mariners, it won’t make sense, and if you do, Seattle fans will think you’re arrogant. Third Revival Ska Hayes is right out. Alternative Hayes is too long. House Hayes sounds like an angry doctor. if you start going by Macarena Hayes, i’ll kill myself, i swear i will.

Maybe Indie Hayes?

Thanks so much for the update…Lori & I will defnitely be praying for your recovery…put your trust & faith in our Lord & be ready to be blessed by his divine intervention.
We look forward to seeing you on the mound in the Cactus League!
God Bless!
Your friends,
Matt & Lori Smalling
Redondo Beach, CA

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