Archive for Thursday, July 24, 2003

A man with a plan

Former Bobcat Jeremy Sheehan takes the first step of a long road to recovery

July 24, 2003

After four years as a Bobcat and a few months of elbow rehab, it looks like Jeremy Sheehan will one day pitch for the Cowley County Tigers.

Sheehan signed with Cowley County Community College during his senior year at Basehor-Linwood High School. As his final season of high school baseball came to a painful close, Sheehan was faced with a frightening choice -- have elbow surgery and hope to resume a baseball career or hang it up.

Shortly after an MRI that revealed Sheehan would need Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the decision was clear.

After the MRI, Sheehan went to a friend's house to hang out. While lounging around, the two flipped on the tube and immediately a baseball game filled the 27-inch screen.

"I knew right then that I was going to have the surgery," Sheehan said. "I knew I couldn't go the rest of my life watching baseball without giving myself a chance to get back out there and play again."

So he did.

After delaying the final decision for a few days at the request of his mother, Sheehan and his family scheduled the surgery. Two weeks after realizing the severity of the injury, Sheehan went under the knife.

Surgery became necessary because Sheehan's pitching motion produced a torn ligament in his right elbow. BLHS coach Curtis Press said Sheehan's motion is not all that uncommon, but pitching in general creates a lot of stress on the arm.

"Even if you do your mechanics properly, you're abusing your arm so much by pitching," Press said. "In today's game it's almost become certain that pitchers are going to have arm problems. The question now is how severe they will be."

In Sheehan's case, the answer was career-threatening.

In its early stages, Tommy John surgery was a one-in-a-million shot at best. The surgery itself, inspired by the desire and determination of the former Los Angeles Dodger, actually takes a tendon from the arm and uses it to repair the damaged ligament.

When John had it, in 1974, it was considered almost a miracle that he was able to resume his career. Now days, it has become much more common and several Major League greats like Chicago Cubs ace Kerry Wood and Dodgers closer Eric Gagne have bounced back from the surgery to have stellar careers.

Sheehan is well aware of their success stories and he's hoping to follow in their footsteps.

"I've been on the internet almost everyday trying to find out as much as I can about it," he said. "If those guys can come back and be as great as they are, I'm confident I can come back, too."

Before then, Sheehan has a long road ahead.

The hurler went in for surgery on June 25. Doctors said everything went as scheduled and after two weeks of immobilization Sheehan's cast was removed July 15. He expects to have full motion in his elbow by Aug. 1 and a few days later begin physical therapy.

The physical therapy will continue every day for as long as it takes to get Sheehan back on the mound.

"I just want to get the process going," he said. "I really think I can come back."

With an injury of this magnitude, it's only natural for a high school athlete to feel down in the dumps. Especially when that athlete had a future as bright as Sheehan's.

As the ace of the Bobcats' staff for the past two seasons, Sheehan racked up wins and dominating performances like they were falling from the sky.

His hard work and success landed him at one of the finest junior college programs in the area, but a few weeks later, he was forced to take a step back.

It's not that Sheehan views the setback as unfair, but he does see it as unfortunate and unsettling.

"I guess everything happens for a reason, but when the doctors told me what was wrong, I just kind of broke down," he said. "I had to leave the doctor's office.

"Sometimes I get upset about it, but I've read that the first thing you have to do is realize that you're going to be out of the game for a while. I've realized that and now I'm ready to do what it takes to come back. This is just a step back and hopefully I'll come back stronger -- maybe that's the reason."

Press said he hoped for the same thing and thought if anyone could do it, Sheehan would be the guy.

"He was one of those rare guys in high school who always gave maximum effort and had himself ready to play," Press said. "It takes a lot of heart and determination to come back from something like this and Jeremy certainly has the heart, he certainly has the determination and he certainly has the talent."

For now, he also has five months off.

But just because his college baseball career has been put on hold doesn't mean his college experience has.

Sheehan is currently enrolled in a classes at Johnson County Community College and he hopes to get a jumpstart on his studies while rehabbing his elbow.

For the next five months, Sheehan will live with his parents, who will be with him every step of the way to recovery.

The coaches at Cowley County have told him they will hold his scholarship for a year. Their hope is that Sheehan will enroll at Cowley County in January, where he would be able to further rehabilitate his elbow with help from the team's trainer.

"That's what I'm hoping for, too," Sheehan said. "And if everything goes right, that's what I'll do."

The experience has opened Sheehan's eyes to how fortunate he has been. Aside from not being able to drive and dealing with a little bit of pain from time to time, things haven't been all bad.

Heck, Sheehan has even garnered a new nickname out of the deal.

"They're calling me 'Tommy' now," he said. "I don't really know how to feel about that."

But for the most part he just laughs.

And in the coming months, his laughter might be more effective than any exercise, stretch or examination could ever be.

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