The Garden City Telegram
11/3/2012
SOUTHWEST LIFE

Arm troubles throw curve at son's college baseball dreams

Sometimes dreams change without warning.

I can't remember a time when my son, Alek, did not play baseball.

He was the kid who would move our vehicles out of the garage in the middle of winter so he could hit off a tee and throw into an old blanket we hung from the garage ceiling to get ready for the upcoming season.

He was the kid his high school coach said should have his mail delivered to the batting cage because that's where he spent all his time.

He was the kid who played catch in between snow drifts to get his arm in shape.

Now, he is the kid who returned his college scholarship because his arm has rebelled.

Last summer he became the left-handed pitcher who turned into a right-handed outfielder.

He could not pitch, but he played the outfield, fielding the ball, flipping his glove off and throwing with his "off" hand.

Alek has always been able to use his right hand. He has always bowled or tossed a football with his right, and for a time took guitar lessons, playing right-handed.

He wanted to play right-handed because it kept him on the field.

But college is different. Although he could have remained on the team, the pain prevented him from being a complete player, and the mental and emotional toll was too much.

This week, we travel to Lincoln for a second opinion.

For months, Alek rehabbed his arm for a growth plate that had not closed and caused inflammation in his rotator cuff and labrum.

As unusual as it was for someone to have an open growth plate at his age, it appears the problem persists. An MRI revealed no structural damage.

At this time, it is only conjecture as to what the problem is.

Maybe it's serious, maybe not.

The only thing I am certain is that no one knew how much Alek was suffering.

Despite the attention he got from other teams, local and state media, he showed little interest in it.

He accepted — but didn't like — not being able to pitch for his American Legion team because he knew he had to get healthy for college.

When that didn't happen, he was devastated.

The night he told me he was quitting baseball, he told me he never expected this to happen. He couldn't lift his arm to the top of his head without pain. He still wakes up some morning with an arm that hurts, and he hasn't tossed a baseball in months.

He doesn't use the arm for any kind of activity. When his roommate and him shot hoops in their dorm on a Nerf hoop, he plays one-handed.

I never understood how hurt he was emotionally until that night. Subsequent talks with Alek have revealed how upsetting it was for him.

He also has mentioned maybe he should have stuck it out, but Alek is a perfectionist, and he new how good he had been on the mound.

Athletes have a short window, and we all know about the ones whose careers have been shortened by injuries.

At this point, it is important to get Alek's arm healthy again so he can use it normally.

I am optimistic. I have to be.

This isn't a tragedy in the sense of what a true tragedy is. This is a curve ball life has tossed Alek, much like the ones he used to snap off.

Whatever the second opinion reveals, Alek will deal with it. He's now handling the situation extremely well.

Maybe the arm just needs more time to rehab and heal.

Maybe Alek will find himself back on the mound again.

Or maybe he gave it his all, and it's time to move in another direction and make new dreams.

Patrick Murphy, of Columbus, Neb., is a former assistant managing editor of The Telegram.