Wichita State’s Sam Tewes knew, like all pitchers know. So did his roommate, sitting in the dugout at Goodwin Field in Fullerton, Calif. Cody Tyler knew his job was to help Tewes through the next year or so.
“I threw it and I felt it,” Tewes said. “It was pretty loud. A couple teammates said they heard it. It was scary.”
Scary, but also not surprising for a pitcher.
Tewes tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on March 11 in the first inning against Cal State-Fullerton and underwent ligament replacement surgery on March 31. Commonly known as “Tommy John” surgery, it’s regarded as the injury-in-waiting for pitchers. In 2014, the American Sports Medicine Institute cited a survey that said 16 percent of United State-born athletes in professional baseball have had Tommy John surgery.
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“You see it more now than ever,” Tyler said. “If a pitcher hasn’t had it yet, it’s definitely something they think about.”
The Shockers (16-27) play two games this week against Kansas State (21-23), at Manhattan on Tuesday and at Eck Stadium on Wednesday in a makeup of last week’s rained-out game.
Tyler is in a unique — or not-so-unique —position to help Tewes. Tyler, a lefty from Terrell, Texas, tore his UCL in 2014, his freshman season at WSU, and underwent surgery on May 31, 2014. He redshirted last season and his return provides Tewes an up-close look at how life after surgery can unfold, with hard work and good fortune. Tyler earned Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the week honors on Monday after throwing his second complete game of the season. For the season, Tyler is 3-2 with a 3.61 ERA in 15 appearances.
“It’s been nice to see him have all the success,” Tewes said. “That’s very encouraging to know that what’s been in place has been working for a lot of guys.”
Tewes is in the early stages of rehab, focused on flexibility and range of motion. Most of his time with trainer Dan Cahill is spent strengthening his shoulder and icing to reduce swelling. Some pitchers return within 12 months; others take up to 16 months. While it’s too early to be certain, Tewes said he thinks his recovery will go past the 12-month marker.
“You start throwing lightly at six months, that’s the typical protocol,” he said. “And you build your way from there. It’s definitely a long road.”
Tyler’s aid started in the dugout in Fullerton and continues with his advice to stay patient, follow the rehab plan and trust the advice of doctors and trainers.
As soon as he threw the ball, I saw him go down to a knee and I knew.”
“That was tough, seeing the look on his face,” Tyler said. “As soon as he threw the ball, I saw him go down to a knee and I knew. He had his head down on the bench and I went over and talked to him and said ‘Hey man, this is something you’ve got to get through.’”
Injury again derailed what started as a standout career as a Shockers. Tewes, from Lincoln, Neb., went 8-3 with a 3.27 ERA in 2014 to earn Freshman All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball. He made five starts last season before shoulder inflammation sidelined him, a condition he does not believe is related to the elbow injury. He returned healthy for 2016 and made four starts as WSU’s No. 1 starter before tearing his ligament.
“I believe God’s got a plan for everything,” Tewes said. “This is one stepping stone in a long, long path that my life’s going to take me on. Whether it leads me to a career in baseball, or it leads me to stepping away from baseball, it’s going to be a stepping stone. You never know.”
Tewes, who received a medical hardship for last season, is eligible for the professional draft in June. If selected, he could sign and continue his rehab with a professional team. Or he could return to Wichita State. Both options, he said, are good ones.
“I love the game,” he said. “I’m going to do everything possible to be back on the mound as soon as possible.”
Wichita State at Kansas State
▪ When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
▪ Where: Tointon Stadium, Manhattan
▪ Records: WSU 16-27, KSU 21-23
▪ Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM
▪ TV: Fox College Sports