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Gonzalez Suffers Broken Neck & Returns

Gonzalez Suffers Broken Neck & Returns

Andy GonzalezBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

This article originally appeared in the March 8, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball.

PHILADELPHIA — Andy Gonzalez of Misericordia University is lucky to be alive. On Feb. 27, 2012, he was driving back to school from Philadelphia when another driver ran a red light and crashed into the passenger side of his vehicle.

Andy started through the intersection after his light turned green, and he never saw the other car coming as the impact spun his vehicle around several times until it came to rest near a sidewalk.

The 5-foot-9, 210-pound catcher didn’t realize it, but he suffered a broken neck which normally kills people or causes total paralysis. His C-2 vertebra, which is even with his ears, was fractured in the violent collision. In fact, the common name for this type of broken neck is a “Hangman’s Fracture.”

“After the impact, I was dazed and not sure what happened,” said Gonzalez. “There is currently a lawsuit pending against the other driver. I believe the operator of the other car tried to slip through the intersection as my light turned green. I started driving into the intersection as the first car ready to move out. It was early in the morning about 6:50 a.m., and there really weren’t that many cars on the road. I was in the middle of the intersection when he hit me.”

Gonzalez said he was conscious through the entire situation until he was put in the ambulance. “Once paramedics placed me on a stretcher in the ambulance, I passed out. I don’t remember the ambulance ride to the hospital.”

Gonzalez said that he felt some pain in his neck initially after the accident. But it wasn’t unbearable pain.

“I had no idea how seriously hurt I was. I attempted to get out of the car, but the way the car was crushed in from the passenger side, the center console pinned one of my legs in. And my foot was stuck. I was able to get my foot and leg out, and they weren’t mangled up. While I was trying to get free, a witness who saw the accident came over and told me to stop moving and stay there.

“The witness called 911. Once the ambulance arrived in about 10 minutes, paramedics carefully took me out of the car and protected my neck as they put me on a stretcher.

“I was taken to Hammond Hospital in Philadelphia. When I regained consciousness, my clothes had already been cut off, and I was about to be put in a tube which I believe was CAT scan machine to take a closer look at my neck. As I woke up, I felt intense pain in my neck which at this point had a neck brace on it. The nurse told me I was at the hospital and had been in a car accident. She told me to stay still because they were running some scans on the neck area.

“I told her that my neck hurt pretty bad, and she assured me that after the tests were done that I would get some pain medicine. At about that time, my parents were contacted in the Long Island, N.Y. area. They had no idea I had been in a serious accident. They immediately drove to Philadelphia which is about three hours away.”

No Paralysis
Initially, he had some temporary loss of feeling in his feet. But Gonzalez could still move them. He was fortunate not to have any paralysis.

“I then was wheeled to the Intensive Care Unit, and about an hour later, a doctor came in and explained that I didn’t have any internal bleeding. But he said I had an unstable break in my C-2 vertebra. The doctor told me that I was lucky to be alive and said it was rare for a person to break his C-2 vertebra and still be alive. The doctor said the unstable condition of the vertebra had to be taken care of as soon as possible and explained two options.

“The first was a neck fusion procedure while the second was wearing a halo brace which would keep my head immobile while the C-2 vertebra healed over a long period of time.

“He felt that I was young enough that the bone could heal by itself, and the halo brace was recommended by him. That’s when I had to figure everything out quickly. I told him that he was the expert with situations like this and gave him the go ahead to put the halo brace on. Then they brought me the paperwork, and I signed everything.

“As soon as the team of doctors was ready, I was wheeled in as they fitted me for a halo brace. It was a very quick turnaround. A hard, plastic vest is put over your chest and torso starting above your belly button area. Connected to the vest are four bars which go up along the side of your head. The bars connect into a metal circular brace that looks like a halo and goes around your head.

“That halo is then secured to your head with four screws which are drilled into your skull. There were two screws in the front and two in the back. That keeps your head from moving at all. I had the halo on for approximately 12 weeks.”

Gonzalez said that he didn’t realize all the small movements your head makes during the course of a day. “If something startled me and I attempted to turn as a natural reaction, I could feel the screws that were put in my skull, and it was a painful reminder not to move.”

Difficult To Sleep
Gonzalez was asked if he could sleep at night with this unwieldy halo brace now attached to his upper body.

“While I was in the hospital, I couldn’t move the main part of my body from the waist up. The only way I could move my upper body was by my lower body since the upper part was immobile. The hospital bed allowed the back part of the bed to go up and down. Sleeping was uncomfortable. And in the beginning, it was very painful to lie on the actual metal cage of the halo. I couldn’t lay on my head…only the bars. But this type of bed did help lower and raise my upper body.

“I didn’t sleep too much until I got used to it. I had to relearn how to sit up. It took me a few days to get out of bed and stand up. After a few days of getting out of bed and taking a few steps, my physical therapist helped me increase the distance as I walked the halls. That’s all I wanted to do at this time after a few days of only laying in bed. I had enough of that.”

Gonzalez had been an athlete his entire life, and he was asked if it was difficult to be immobile.

“It was very difficult. My lifestyle was so active through my life between baseball, working out and training, and now I was essentially immobile. It was rough emotionally and physically.”

Gonzalez was in the Intensive Care Unit for three days and subsequently moved to general care in the hospital for another eight days. Then he was released to go back home which presented another challenge for him.

“I wanted to walk out of the hospital because I had been lying in bed for so long. So they allowed me to use a walker even though I still wasn’t able to walk all that well. But I made it to our car.

“But getting in the car was a challenge even though it was an SUV. I had to wiggle my way in as I put the seat down and bend a little as I got in. It was an extremely tight fit, but I made it in. The three hour ride back to Long Island was awful. Every little bump was painful, and it was like torture.”

Gauntlet Set
Before he left to go home, Gonzalez was told by the specialist at the hospital that he would never play baseball again. At that moment, the memory of his 2011 season was a distant mirage as he played in 38 games, started 35, and was named second team All-Conference as a catcher.

“The doctor told me that this was a pretty serious break, and I would be able to walk. But as far as my competitive athletic career, that was a thing of the past. He told me that I wouldn’t be able to do those types of things any more. I listened to what he had to say. But I didn’t for one minute believe it. I refused to believe this. After I got home, I saw another specialist for a second opinion.

“He said pretty much the same thing and mentioned that I was a very lucky man to be alive. He said that one day I would probably be able to play catch with my own son. But as far as playing baseball, that is out of the question, and your career is over.”

After hearing the unsettling news from another specialist, he was depressed at first. But he knew deep inside that he would play baseball again. So he did everything he could to help his cause by searching the internet for products that might speed the recovery of his C-2 vertebra.

“I simply couldn’t do much while I was in the halo for 12 weeks and another 10 weeks in a typical neck brace. There was no way I could train since I was pretty much immobile. All I could do physically was walk around during this period. But what I did do was stay positive which was the most important thing.

“I truly believed I would get back out on the baseball field. I did my research and found vitamins, minerals, food and drinks that would help heal bones faster and make them stronger.”

Finishing His Degree
Gonzalez said that the doctor requested that he not go back to Misericordia University during the spring of 2012 after the accident so he could heal properly at home. He felt it would be extremely difficult to attend classes and get around with a halo brace on.

“He suggested with everything I had to go through, it might be wise to stay at home during the rest of the spring semester. But I was still on the baseball team, and this was supposed to be the final semester of my senior year. So I decided to go back on campus and finish my classes the normal way. And I finished my double major of computer science and mathematics and walked through to get my diploma last May.”

Gonzalez refused to allow his baseball career to end this way and told Coach Egbert that he was coming back in the fall of 2012 to play one final season for Misericordia.  He planned on taking Informa-tion Technology Organization Management as a graduate student in the quest to obtain his Master’s Degree.

“At the end of last season, Coach Egbert met with me and was probably very skeptical about me coming back. After all, I had a broken neck. He also realized that specialists had told me I would not be able to play baseball and other competitive sports again.

“Before the injury, I weighed about 210 pounds. But after inactivity for so long, my weight plummeted to 180 pounds as I lost about 30 pounds. My muscle mass had really gone down. I went home for the summer and couldn’t really do anything. Once I got the halo brace off after 12 weeks, then I had to deal with the regular neck brace for 10 additional weeks. With that type of neck brace, I could do light stationary bike riding.

“I also walk a lot which helped. In early August, I went to see the specialist for a checkup. An MRI of my neck was taken, and the specialist carefully looked at the images over and over again. Then he told me that he thought I would be able to play again because everything in the C-2 vertebra had healed well. So he wanted me to take everything slow and steady and cleared me for limited activity. My parents (Alison and Manny) were with me, and everybody had huge smiles on their faces.

“You can’t imagine the tough road I had to get back to this stage. And I wouldn’t have made it this far without the help of my parents, support of Coach Egbert and all the guys on the team. I realized at that moment that I could start preparing to be a baseball player again. Fall baseball practices were going to start in a month. And I hadn’t done anything with baseball for the previous seven months.

“It was one roadblock out of the way. But I realized I had more to come.”

Gonzalez said that the specialist wanted him to come back to the office in a few weeks to be cleared for full activity at the tail end of August.

“When I was given the first clearance, all I was allowed to do was very, very light weight training. Nothing overhead was allowed. I could run and jog and do cardio work. It was important to take it easy and not have anything bad happen. I went back to the doctor several weeks later, and he cleared me for full baseball activity. Then I started running every day and did as much lifting as I could to build up my strength. I tried to throw and hit, but it was out of the question because my neck was so stiff.

“Before the injury, I had taken baseball for granted. It was just a joy being out there throwing, hitting and being a catcher. I found out a year ago that all that can be taken away. As soon as I was cleared, I rededicated myself to the game I love. And every day, I would wake up and think about the days I couldn’t weight train, run or play baseball and could only be in bed with the halo brace on day after day for 12 weeks. It was an incredible motivator for me. All I wanted to do was work out, run, throw and hit. Once I was able to really do those things, I got after it.

“I was in the gym every day and on the track and baseball field as much as I could be. Just prior to the season, everybody went through the pre-season physical fitness test, and I graded out as the strongest guy on the team. I squatted three reps of 425 pounds. Then I bench pressed 295 with three reps. I also performed 14 pull-ups at a body weight of 215 pounds. I had gained all 30 pounds back, plus five more as well.”

Gonzalez said that after he was able to have more range of motion with his neck due to hours of physical therapy, then he was able to throw, hit and catch with more precision.

“I caught my first bullpen in mid-September in a practice situation, and it felt incredible. It was the greatest feeling in the world. And then I started throwing and hitting more. Now I am ready to play in 2013.

“It is amazing how far I have come when you look back on this journey from having a broken neck. In 2011, I was the starting catcher and helped our team win its first conference title. Then last year, all I could do was sit on the bench and cheer them on. I wouldn’t be here now without the support of my parents, coaches and all the guys on the team. They have all been wonderful. I will never forget my head coach traveling two hours to see me the day of the accident as he dropped everything he was doing. That meant a lot to me. From the time I was told I would never play baseball again to me telling Coach Egbert I would play again, he has been there checking up on me to make sure I was OK.

“Coach Egbert is an amazing man. I’m not sure how many head coaches out there would drop everything they were doing to go visit a player who was injured two hours away. He really cares about his players, and if something happens to them even off the field, he will be there for you.”

Amazing Young Man
Misericordia’s Egbert brushed off the notion that he was special for visiting Gonzalez in a hospital two hours away on a moment’s notice.

“It was the right thing to do, and I would like to think a number of other coaches would do the same thing,” said Egbert.

“Andy’s friend in Philadelphia called to inform me about the accident. She notified me that he was in the hospital and was in no condition to speak right away.

“That news really threw me for a loop. As a coach, you are shaken up. Andy had been in our program for four years, and I was very close to him. When you get those types of phone calls, it’s not easy to handle.

“The other difficult thing about that is relaying the information to the team. But with today’s technology, a lot of them were aware of what happened before we were able to get together later that day.

“I left for a day or two to visit him at the hospital. The assistant coaches ran practice. And it was just a process of keeping our players updated on what was going on. It was touch and go for the first few days. We didn’t know if he was going to make it. You spend a lot of time with these guys, and part of the job is watching them develop and mature and get out on their own. Visiting him after such a serious injury was the least I could do.”

Egbert marveled at the strength and resolve it took by Gonzalez to make it all the way back to playing baseball again with the odds stacked against him.

“It’s been a long, long journey. About 2/3rds of the way through the 2012 season, we had a Saturday home game in April, and Andy’s mom drove him to the game from Long Island to the field. We are in the outfield stretching for a conference doubleheader, and here comes Andy walking around the corner. The reaction was priceless. Everyone stopped and went over to see him and gave him a big hug. He was very inspirational to our team.

“I tell him to this day that even though he wasn’t able to play in 2012, he was a very big part of the team. Doctors told him he would never be able to play baseball again and was lucky to be alive.

“He refused to accept that and is back for his fifth year to get his Master’s. He made a lot of sacrifices physically, emotionally, mentally, academically and financially to do what he is doing. To me, it is a great story. He is healthy right now and ready to play.

“Andy is actually stronger than before the car accident. He did a phenomenal job of getting back to full strength. He wants to prove to everybody else that he can come back better than he was.

“Andy has been given a second chance in life. He has the same great work ethic in academics and baseball that he has always had. But he has a completely different perspective on life and doesn’t take anything for granted any more.”

Should Fans Have Legal Rights During Games?

Should Fans Have Legal Rights During Games?

Beware of Foul BallsBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

TUCSON, Ariz. — When a baseball fan is hit by a line drive, and a serious injury takes place, should he be allowed to sue?

Or does the disclaimer on the back of the ticket saying the holder assumes all risks associated with ball-related injuries absolve those who operate a stadium and team of future lawsuits?

The question has come into focus after Bud Rountree was hit by a line drive in the eye at a Boise (Idaho) Hawks baseball game in August of 2008.

The severe damage caused by the impact resulted in Rountree losing his eye.

His attorney filed a lawsuit against the stadium owners and the team in 2010 for negligence in state court. Several weeks ago, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the lawsuit could move forward.

It was a rare setback for stadium owners and teams concerning this issue.

For decades, the “Baseball Rule” of liability has been adopted for such situations as lawsuits have been turned away from courts because of the disclaimer on the back of tickets with those attending games knowing the potential danger of foul balls, thrown balls and bats flying into stands.

The back of Rountree’s ticket said: “The holder assumes all risk and dangers incidental to the game of baseball including specifically (but not exclusively) the danger of being injured by thrown or batted balls.”

It didn’t matter in this case.

This ruling has reverberated throughout all of baseball.

If a jury rules in favor of Rountree’s lawsuit, all of baseball will be impacted, including college and high school games.

You might see more protective netting being put up or even have fans sign their tickets to show they know what the disclaimer on the back of their ticket says as they hand them to stadium personnel entering parks.

Another case took place in New Mexico when the parents of a 4-year-old child launched a lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Isotopes minor league team after their son was hit in the head by a long fly ball during pre-game batting practice.

The family was eating in the picnic area located just beyond the left field wall. Different courts in New Mexico have gone back and forth over whether the family should be given compensation for the head injury.

It should be noted that the Baseball Rule siding with teams and stadium owners has been adopted by courts in Massachusetts, New York, Michigan and other states which go against the recent Idaho Supreme Court ruling.

How Many Fans Are Hit?
While Collegiate Baseball knows of no source that tracks fan injuries from foul balls by Major League Baseball or the NCAA, Bob Gorman has done unscientific research for his blog Death At The Ballpark.

He kept a count of foul balls entering stands for 20 games during the 2010 season which amounted to 166 innings. He counted 405 fouls that went into the stands which was an average of 2.44 per inning.

The greatest number of fouls per inning was 5.4 over a 5-inning stretch. The lowest figure was eight during 8 ½ innings (.09 per inning).

He pointed out that the Detroit Free Press did a similar project for one game. During a Tigers’ contest at Comerica Park, they had a crew of 22 people spread throughout the park tracking balls that entered the stands (including fouls, homers, and balls tossed to fans from the field). Of the 46 fouls that game, 32 met the paper’s criteria of entering the stands.

Of these 32, 23 were from batted fouls. The average for this 8 ½ inning game was similar to what Gorman found in his research: 2.7 fouls per inning.

Of the thousands of professional, college and high school baseball games that are played each year, you can multiply that number by the number of innings played and then multiply that figure by 2.4 to get a realistic idea of how many balls are hit into stands each year.

And that figure is obviously in the thousands.

For More On This Story: Read more about injuries at the College World Series and other ballparks and who is liable. See the March 22, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. Single copies can be purchased for $3 each. See Subscriptions for ordering information.

Golembo Mixes Baseball, Judo Skills

Golembo Mixes Baseball, Judo Skills

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

This story originally appeared in the April 5, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball newspaper.

ST. LOUIS. — Baseball players have always been considered superb athletes.

But rarely do you have one at the level of Max Golembo, freshman outfielder for Washington University in St. Louis, an NCAA Div. 3 school.

Not only is he a superb baseball player who was hitting .438 after six games for the Bears with an on-base percentage of .565, but he is one of the top judo fighters in the world at his weight.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Golembo’s goal is to represent the United States in the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics. In the process, he may be the first college baseball player in history to compete at an Olympics in the sport of judo.

Golembo got his start as a baseball player at the age of three when his dad Clark had him try to hit balls off a tee in the back yard.

Through the years, he played on youth baseball teams and then on an elite travel team in Illinois called Top Tier. He ultimately played his high school baseball at Adlai Stevenson H.S. in Lincolnshire, Ill., where he hit .418 as a senior with 22 RBIs and 20 runs scored.

But that was only one part of his life.

Judo was another passion of his that he began learning at the tender age of four.

“My dad worked with Bob Berland who earned a silver medal during the Olympics years ago,” said Golembo. “He told my dad that if he had a boy, it was important to have him learn judo. So I began working at judo at the age of four and have been refining my skills ever since.”

Golembo entered his first judo tournament at the age of six and won the championship.

“It was such a great feeling to win that I wanted to keep at it, and judo became a bigger and bigger part of my life. When I was 8-9, I spent the entire summer going to judo camp every day from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. And then I would practice at night. I was able to travel across the country to national events. And I kept winning.

“At the age of 15, I won at the nationals. But I was humbled very quickly when I fought in the under 17 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. I really wasn’t ready for that level of competition and got killed by my first round opponent.”

Qualified For Junior Worlds
After working hard at his craft for the next two years and gaining more strength, he qualified for the U.S. judo team at the Junior Worlds in the under 20 age category.

“It was held in Agadir, Morocco at the end of October in 2010,” said Golembo.

 “I was a lot more prepared for this level of competition this time. I really picked up the training and worked every day before and after school. I ended up taking fifth place in the world as I won four matches and lost two. I beat the guy who destroyed me two years earlier. What made this finish so special was that I was the first American male to place in the top five in the Junior World competition in the prior 25 years. And it was the best moment of my life.”

Golembo lost a quarterfinal match to a Japanese athlete. That put him in the loser’s bracket, and he had to win a match to qualify for the bronze medal match.

“That match was extremely exciting. I tied it up with 10 seconds left and won in overtime. But I lost the bronze medal match to another Japanese athlete.”

While Golembo still has great passion for the sport of judo, there simply were not judo scholarships to be found at colleges. So he kept training in judo but began focusing more on baseball during the summer of his junior year in high school. And ultimately, the coaches at Washington University in St. Louis offered him a position on the team.

“I still work on judo. But there isn’t a club at Washington University. But I can train with a friend in St. Louis about 15 miles away which I do at 6 a.m. when I am able to. When I go home, I will train much harder in judo with my coach. It will be a strict regimen at that time.”

Golembo was asked to explain what judo training entails since most people involved in baseball have no idea how rigorous it is.

“When I am home, I get up in the morning and do weight training and then work with my coach on different grips, perfecting throws and making myself better in this discipline. I will typically run 2-3 miles but also do some spring workouts to increase my agility.

“It is a very structured program from some amazing coaches. I also have worked with an Olympic coach who was in Sydney, Australia at that Olympics and another coach who was on the German national team.

“When I have fought these coaches, they have kicked my rear end around in practice. But they have given me a template to train and achieve my goal of being in the Olympics. They know what it takes.”

Challenging Training
Golembo said his training schedule for judo was difficult in high school.

“I had to get up and train at 5 a.m. since classes started at 7 a.m.. But you have to do the work to get better.”

Golembo said that the top judo experts in the world are mostly from Europe and Asia. The Japanese always have incredible athletes who dominate the sport.

The more tournaments you participate in and do well, the higher your world ranking is.

“The ranking changes every year. The key year for me will be 2015. So I need to compete at key tournaments to be in a position to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. I not only have to be one of the elite athletes in judo at 178 pounds in the USA, but I also have to be one of the top 25 in the world.”

Golembo was asked if he has ever had friends or coaches who have offered to join him in a judo match.

“Recently on our baseball team at Washington, one of my good friends Chris Lowery, the third baseman on the team, challenged me to a match. He kept egging me on to wrestle him. Finally I had heard enough and said let’s do it now. So my teammates got in a circle, and we squared off. Chris is about 6-foot-2 and 215-pounds, and is a lot bigger than me. At first, I just messed around with him.

“Then I made a quick move, picked him up and threw him down to the ground. He got the wind knocked out of him and didn’t want any more of me. Nobody else on the team has challenged me since,” laughed Golembo.

“Another time in high school as a sophomore, an assistant baseball coach on the team couldn’t believe I was as talented in judo as he had heard. This coach was 6-foot-3 and about 240 pounds. He kept telling me that he could take me down nearly every practice.

“One time, he doused me with water while he was working on the field. I didn’t appreciate that and said, ‘Let’s go right now.’ So he dropped the hose, and we squared off. I made a move, picked him up and threw down on the ground hard and had him in a very compromising position as he yelled for me to stop. I asked him if he was OK, and he was. But he never mentioned judo again after that point.”

Golembo said he has never utilized his judo skills to help friends out of sticky situations.

“I am not the type of person who looks for fights. The only exception is judo matches.”

Scheetz Travels Over 50,000 Miles

Scheetz Travels Over 50,000 Miles

Ryan Scheetz At Gorom Refugee Camp in Juba South SudanBy LOU PAVLOVICH
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

STORM LAKE, Iowa — Ryan Scheetz of Buena Vista University is one of the most prolific world travelers in college baseball history.

Since 2011, the talented first baseman for the Beavers has traveled over 50,000 miles across the globe to destinations such as Granada (Spain), Kathmandu (Nepal), Munich (Germany), Prague (Czech Republic), Uganda and the South Sudan (Africa).

If you travel around the world at the equator, the distance is approximately 24,900 miles. So Scheetz has traveled this distance twice in slightly over two years. In fact, he has gone on so many journeys to different lands that he had to receive close to $900 worth of immunization shots in total prior to these trips to stay away from potential infectious diseases, according to his mom Patricia.

One of his most memorable trips was to Nepal and was arranged through his work in the 212 Degree program which operates in Minneapolis, Minn. The trip to Nepal took place Dec. 30, 2011-Jan. 25, 2012, and he received three credits for going from a course called Leadership In Evangelism.

“For about three hours in the morning for two weeks, we would talk about leadership. Later in the day, we would go out into the city and do ministry and evangelism.

“For the other two weeks, we got to climb through the Himalayan Mountains. We went on a specific trek where we were attempting a climb to 16,000 feet. It was not Mt. Everest, but it was close to where Mt. Everest is.

“Because of the amount of snow on the ground, we didn’t get to go all the way up and stopped at about 9,000 feet. We were the first group in the past 11 years that wasn’t able to go all the way up to the top. Normally there isn’t any more than three feet of snow at the highest accumulations in January with the area we trekked.

“Unfortunately, there was eight feet of snow in places. So we turned around. But it became a blessing because we got to stay in one of the villages for another couple of days. We met a bunch of great people, and I stay in contact with several of them even today.”

Scheetz said the 2-week trek involved carrying heavy gear for temperatures that would dip below zero at night to day temperatures that would be in the 50s.

He recently came back from a trip to South Sudan which took place Jan. 12-20. Two years ago, he did an internship with a local non-profit ministry in Storm Lake, Iowa for about three months with the focus on Sudanese children.

He flew to Uganda with a friend after arranging to meet with a contact.

“It took us 23 hours to reach Uganda. Then it took another 5 ½ hours to reach northern Uganda. We arrived at our contact’s house and talked with him. He asked us what our main goal was. And we told him that we wanted to get to South Sudan to the refugee camp. And he encouraged us to go

“He told us that he had American friends who went back and forth every day from this area. I was a little nervous because everybody at my university told me that I shouldn’t go there because it’s too dangerous. So I was scared.

“The next morning, we took a 9 ½ hour bus ride to Juba, South Sudan. And I was terrified for a 30-minute period. About every five vehicles was a military truck filled with six to eight people standing in the back with AK-47 machine guns.

“I just prayed that everything would be alright. They were all over the place. You couldn’t walk five feet without seeing armed military people. Ad that was different for me. I was concerned being the only white person around. All the warnings I had received before we left weighed on me. These military people kept staring at me as we drove by. I couldn’t look up and make them think I was disrespecting them. I didn’t know their culture and how they would react if I looked at them. So I just looked downward but could still see with my peripheral vision.”

More On Amazing World Traveler: To read the complete article from the Feb. 22, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball, call our subscription department to purchase this edition or subscribe for a year.

228-Game Losing Streak Is Now Over

228-Game Losing Streak Is Now Over

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball
(From March 8, 2013 edition)

PASADENA, Calif. — Possibly the greatest losing streak in NCAA baseball history was put to rest several weeks ago when California Institute of Technology knocked off Pacifica, 9-7 in the Beavers’ second game of the year.

Caltech had not won a game against an NCAA team for 228 games which stretched over 10 years. The last time the Beavers won a contest was against Cal. St. Monterey Bay, 5-4 on Jan. 15, 2003. The NCAA statistics’ department is not aware of a longer losing streak in NCAA baseball history.

Caltech has one more gigantic hurdle to clear. The team has not won a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference baseball game in 24 years — a span of 463 games — heading into the 2013 season. The last conference win was against Whittier College in 1988.

Collegiate Baseball felt a more in-depth look at Caltech’s baseball program was in order because of the uniqueness of it and the massive obstacles players and coaches face. Caltech, 1-7 this season, is an NCAA Division III institution that only allows the elite of all scholars across the world to enroll.

The school is an absolute Mecca for scientific milestones, including the discovery of anti-matter, the nature of chemical bonds, the foundations of molecular biology, the birth of modern earthquake science, left brain/right brain discovery and the principles of modern aviation and jet flight. The total number of students at Caltech is usually around 3,000, and the school’s faculty and alumni have received wide recognition for achievements in science and engineering, including 32 Nobel Prizes.

The school is so prestigious that typically there are 3,500 applications for a few hundred open spots. Close to half of applicants score 800 on their math SAT scores (the highest score possible). And the admission’s staff at Caltech doesn’t automatically rubber stamp these kids. Usually more than half won’t get in. The median grade point average of high school kids who have been allowed to enroll at Caltech and play on the baseball team is 3.9, according to former Head Coach John D’Auria who retired at the end of last season after 30 years with the program. In a typical year, the baseball team will have anywhere from 14-16 players.

Current Head Coach Matthew Mark, in his first season with the Beavers after being hired last summer, previously served as the pitching coach for Allegheny College (PA). His entire 2013 squad is comprised of only 13 players. Two of his players never played high school varsity baseball. And one of those individuals had never even played the game of baseball prior to this season.

“I started with 11 kids in the fall and now have 13 now,” said Mark. “I am able to have a lot of 1-on-1 time with the kids. I think it has made me a better coach because it has allowed me to break down the skills precisely to these kids.

“The biggest thing is that it has allowed me to be incredibly imaginative on how to create situations that are game like for them. These kids are great at drills. But I want them to freestyle and learn the game through each other and through competition. It has opened my eyes in working with 13 guys and how you rotate them around to get their work in.

“One of my players never played baseball before by the name of Thomas Kwok. He is probably the fastest kid on our team. So we utilize him as an outfielder and play him a little deeper. He is an amazing kid. He asks questions all the time. He does nothing but get better. I also have another player who never played varsity high school baseball by the name of Will Dooris. I believe he hadn’t even played baseball since his sophomore or junior year in high school. He is a junior at Caltech now and previously played basketball for a year and ran track for a year at our school. Now we have him on the baseball team.”

At times over the years, the baseball program has utilized women to play baseball. During the 2002-2003 seasons, Kristen Zortman played for Caltech.

“She was a fabulous athlete who probably was tougher than most of the guys on the team,” said D’Auria. “Kristen later went on to throw the javelin on the track team and did extremely well. Today, she is an engineer.”

Last season, a lady by the name of Kayla McCue played for the Beavers. Her grandfather played baseball and ran track in Cuba. D’Auria said that Caltech’s philosophy is to overload their undergraduates with much more than they would ever have at another institution.

“They may be getting 150 percent of the material. If the kids retain 30 percent, they are way ahead of other schools. They have homework sessions that are unbelievable marathons. I had kids finish homework at 11 in the morning after being up all night long. Then the kids, absolutely exhausted, fall asleep and don’t wake up until after dinner and miss practice. If you go to any of the eight undergraduate houses, you will find half of them with the lights on and kids awake all night long every day of the week.”

Study Marathons
Mark was amazed at the study habits of his players as well.

“Caltech is an extremely difficult academic school,” said Mark. “But at the same time, it is very rewarding. Our baseball players have nights where they do project sets and stay up through the night out of necessity. I want my players to figure out how to organize and structure their days and nights so they get proper rest. These kids are becoming adults and need to learn how to organize their time.

“During the spring, we have practice from 4-6 p.m. And on weekends, it is 10 a.m.-1 p.m when we don’t play games. That helps them plan their schedule. Every one of the 13 players we have is dedicated. They don’t come late. And they stay after practice to improve themselves.”

But the intense academic workload is always there for his players.

“I had a starter recently who arrived at a game and looked absolutely exhausted and beat. I found out that he didn’t finish one of his homework sets that was due in an hour. I immediately sent him home. Even though the kids work on trying to organize their time, there will be days when this is difficult.

“And I question whether kids get enough sleep. But when they arrive on the baseball field, I preach that this is an escape. They can forget problems they are facing. I want them to enjoy the game of baseball while they are here.”

With poor sleep habits comes poor nutrition. Mark is trying to change that as well.

“Our associate AD and another administrator are both certified nutritionists,” said Mark. “I think I have changed my meals between doubleheaders every time thanks to their advice. I try to control what is going into my players’ bodies especially prior to games.

“Before we leave on a bus for a road trip, I talk to them about what they should be eating the evening before the trip as well as breakfasts and lunches. It’s a process. I guarantee you that they are still eating bad stuff. But I don’t see them drinking pop or sugary drinks. Instead, they drink a lot of water. Hopefully they are learning a lot of good information about nutrition.”

On NCAA Probation

It may be hard to believe, but Caltech was publicly reprimanded by the NCAA in mid-July and given three years of probation, a post-season ban, and recruiting limitations after 12 sports used 30 players that were not technically eligible to play over the last few years.

The student-athletes, which included a few baseball players, were ineligible in large part because of Caltech’s unique academic policy that allows students to “shop” for courses during a three-week period at the beginning of each quarter before finalizing their class schedules.

During this brief period of time, students were not technically students in those classes. So many of the students were not considered full-time students and were ineligible if their teams were playing at the time. Caltech self reported the findings after Betsy Mitchell discovered the violations shortly after she was named Caltech’s athletics director last summer.

Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times wrote a column about this ridiculous punishment by the NCAA last summer.

“You know what stinks? This Pasadena brain boutique is essentially being punished because its classes are so difficult,” said Plaschke. “One of the country’s losingest athletic programs has chosen to vacate wins it doesn’t have, shut down the recruiting it doesn’t do and be ineligible for championships it never wins.

“It’s hard to blame them (students). When deciding between, ‘Markov Chains, Discrete Stochastic Processes and Applications’ and ‘Computational Fluid Dynamics,’ shouldn’t one be allowed to sleep on it? One wrong choice could send your term spinning into a maze of all-nighters,” added Plaschke.

Mark said he found out about the NCAA violations the night after he flew back to Pennsylvania after interviewing for the head coaching position at Caltech last summer.

“It definitely is a hurdle to overcome. As a result, our baseball team couldn’t have an alumni game this season. I can’t go out and recruit players until July 11, 2013. The only exception is if I work a prospect camp where another school pays me to come out and work with kids. I will be doing that early on next summer. We can play in NCAA post-season play in 2014, but not this season if we qualify. The sanctions against baseball are pretty much done after this season.”

Recruiting Problems
Mark said that at Allegheny College, he had upwards of 4,000-6,000 names in a database which he could tap into for potential baseball recruits.

“Those kids might have a general interest or serious interest in the program,” said Mark. “I might have seen kids over the summer or worked at a camp with them. I brought that philosophy here to Caltech, although the list must be scaled down considerably because of the high academics here. When I am allowed to recruit after July 11, I will get out and spread the word about Caltech baseball in a grass roots effort.

“I will let admissions narrow my choices down. I want kids who have played with winning programs and kids who want to make a change and be a part of turning the program around here.

“I realize Caltech is incredibly difficult to get into. But this school is incredibly prestigious to attend and interests so many kids. It draws in people from areas I have never even heard of. I can still watch videos that are sent to me and call different sources for potential players. I know there are always kids out there who want to get recruited.”

Mark was asked if he taps into the database of students Caltech has to see if any athletes are available.

“When I first started last summer, I e-mailed anyone who showed interest in the program. As soon as I got anything back from them, I would call them on a weekly schedule. Working events like the Stanford and Harvard camp and different various academic showcases where I can generate some more numbers will help. And I can contact those kids. That’s the big thing. Just showing my face out there will help. Breaking the streak has helped, and we have had some amazing press off that. No doubt about it.”

Caltech has the unique distinction of playing on a baseball field that is over a 2-story parking garage.

During the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the Beavers were without their home field to make way for a parking garage which covered more than half of the field. The dimensions are approximately the size of a soccer field dropped in right field with one of the goals along the first base line and the other in centerfield.

The top of the garage was built to be 18 inches below the eventual soil level when the field was re-made with drainage, irrigation, soil and new turf which matched the height of the rest of the playing surface. Despite all the hurdles for coaches and players, the game of baseball still enriches their lives.

“Baseball is not a recreation class. My guys put in a ton of extra effort when they aren’t busy with problem sets. They give me 100 percent at practices. I feel that people think baseball at Caltech is taken lightly. And that is not the case.”

Cancer Can’t Stop Farris Family

Cancer Can’t Stop Farris Family

Arizona Pitcher James FarrisBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

TUCSON, Ariz. — Cancer can devastate a family as University of Arizona RHP James Farris knows all too well.

In a little over a year, he had to deal with three members of his family being diagnosed with this deadly disease. During his freshman season with the Wildcats, his grandmother Nonnie suffered greatly as cancer invaded her body and caused both of her legs to be amputated before she passed away.

In December of his freshman year, his sister Jordan suffered when a huge, cancerous tumor was discovered in her chest as she underwent chemotherapy.

Jordan coped with the side effects of chemotherapy as she lost her hair, vomited and was fatigued after the lengthy procedures as poison was essentially pumped into her body to kill the cancer cells.

And if that wasn’t enough, James’ dad (Jim) was hit with this sinister disease a year later. Imagine being away from home at college while this is all unfolding in your life during your freshman and sophomore seasons. Not an hour went by that James didn’t think of family members suffering.

Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for an average of 7.6 million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization. Deaths from cancer worldwide are projected to continue rising with an estimated 13.1 million projected to take place each year by 2030. According to the Centers For Disease Control, cancer claims the lives of more than half a million Americans every year. One in every four deaths in the United States is due to cancer.

Despite dealing with cancer at every turn, he had a superb season last year and pitched one of the greatest games of his life during the 2012 national title game against South Carolina.

Because he was the third starter, he had not pitched in 22 days before his start against the Gamecocks since Arizona’s No. 1 and 2 pitchers won two straight at the Super Regional against St. John’s. These same two pitchers each threw two games in Arizona’s first four games of the CWS.

Farris was more than ready for his chance in the title game. He threw a masterpiece with only two South Carolina hits being allowed in 7 2/3 innings as he struck out four. The Gamecocks didn’t even get a runner past first base through the first six innings.

Read The Entire Story: The complete article appeared in the Feb. 22, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. To obtain a copy or start a subscription, call us at (520) 623-4530.

Evaluating Hitters

Gary WardEvaluating hitters has been lifetime quest for Gary Ward, one of the top batting instructors in the history of college baseball. In the Jan. 4, 2013 issue of Collegiate Baseball, he explained his precision approach to finding great hitters.

In 19 years as the head coach at Oklahoma State, his teams led all NCAA Division I teams in run production six times. His teams routinely produced staggering offensive numbers. For the past nine years, he has been the hitting coach for his son, Rocky, at New Mexico State as the high test offenses have continued.

“To start with, we do a static ball test with all of our hitters,” said Ward. “We have a batter in a hitting cage put a ball on a batting tee in the middle of the plate so that he can drive it right at someone 20 feet away holding a radar gun behind protective netting. Usually this takes place in the back of our hitting cage. The batter continues to hit balls on the tee like this so you can get a good miles per hour average reading coming off the bat.

“You only take the readings that fall into a quadrant of 5 x 5 feet, and usually a hitter is given 10 cuts. Sometimes hitters are not very polished and don’t square up the ball well which makes scoring them very difficult. We have evaluated probably tens of thousands of kids over the years, and you get a pretty good idea of hand strength and bat speed with this test, two extremely important areas.”

Ward said he has utilized the static ball test for over 40 years in college baseball going back to his coaching days at Yavapai Junior College in Arizona.

“If you have a hitter who hits balls 80-84 mph, he will struggle to have gap power. He has a soft bat. And you must project that type of kid to grow more or gain strength. We have found that hand speed and hand strength can be developed. If you have a hitter who has good velocity off the bat in this test, he is way ahead of the game.

“Hitters who are at the 84-87 range are just beginning to develop gap power with the new BBCOR bats. When they are 88-90, they are beginning to have line drive gap power. And when they get into the low 90s, they might have home run power. But they must square up the ball perfectly for that to happen.

“As they reach the 94-96 mph range, they now have home run power. They have the ability to lift some balls out of the park even though they might not have perfect contact.

“When they get to the 96-100 mph range, they can easily carry balls out of the ball park. They have legitimate home run power. Prior to the BBCOR bat, it wasn’t unusual to have a player or two who hit 105 mph balls off bats in the static ball test.

“This test is valuable for both the coach and player. It is controlled with the same bat and same ball. The kid who can square the ball up and hit balls in the 5 x 5 quadrant may score higher initially because he probably is an advanced hitter. There probably is a 3-5 percent range of error. But it helps us evaluate our college players and even young players in our camps. This test has been dead on for me for many years.”

The entire story can be read in the Jan. 4, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. To purchase this issue or start a subscription, click here.

Pitchers Need Head Protection

Pitchers Can Be Sitting DucksIn the Jan. 4, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball, we noted that Major League Baseball has been discussing ways to protect pitchers from being injured by batted balls. Hat liners are a possibility in the minor leagues next season, according to an article carried by the Associated Press.

At one time, batters in baseball didn’t wear helmets. But now, every hitter and runner is required to wear helmets. In fact, base coaches on many levels are required to wear helmets after minor league first base coach Mike Coolbaugh was killed by a line drive in 2007.

Simple common sense should dictate that head protection be mandated for pitchers. After a pitch is released, he is close to 50 feet away from the batter and in harms way for a line drive injury to the head.

Steve Henson of Yahoo Sports, one of the most respected writers in the nation, penned an in-depth article on pitcher head injuries several years ago which quoted Frederick Mueller, a University of North Carolina professor and chairman of USA Baseball’s Medical and Safety Advisory Committee, as saying that an average of one serious injury or death from high school and college pitchers struck in the head by line drives per year has taken place since 1982.

It’s time that all rules committees in college and high school baseball require head protection for pitchers. Bats and balls are not the problem. Lack of head protection is the issue.

Summer Instruction Series: Switch Hitting

Summer Instruction Series: Switch Hitting

Mark TeixeiraOne of the best switch hitters in college baseball history was 3B Mark Teixeira of Georgia Tech, now a first baseman for the New York Yankees.

He hit .427 in 2000 with 18 homers, 21 doubles and 80 RBI. Lou Pavlovich, Jr. interviewed him at the beginning of the 2001 college baseball season about how he learned to be such a great switch hitter.

Here is the story that was published in the January 5, 2001 edition of Collegiate Baseball.

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

Rarely has college baseball seen the likes of Mark Teixeira. The All-American third baseman for Georgia Tech is living proof that work…gut-busting work…will get you where you want in life.

Considered one of the finest switch hitters in college baseball history, he put up staggering numbers in his first two seasons with the Yellow Jackets:

• In 2000, he hit .427 with 18 home runs, 21 doubles, 80 RBI along with a slugging percentage of .772. He collected 103 hits, scored 104 runs, had an on-base percentage of .547 and was extremely disciplined at the plate with 67 walks as he was named National Player of the Year by several outlets. His 67 walks (which included 17 intentional passes) led the Atlantic Coast Conference and was only nine shy of the ACC all-time record.

• As a switch hitter in 2000, he had virtually the same power numbers from both sides of the plate when you factor in the number of bats he had. As a left-handed hitter against right-handed pitching, he batted .405 with 12 homers in 163 at bats. As a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching (in less than half the at bats, 78), he hit .474 with 6 homers.

• Even more remarkable was that Teixeira had an on-base percentage of .633 when leading off an inning and hit .457 with runners on base.

• A year earlier as a freshman for Georgia Tech, Teixeira hit .387 with 13 home runs, 18 doubles and 65 RBI which earned him Freshman National Player of the Year by Collegiate Baseball.

“Mark is right in line with some of the greatest hitters I have ever had the privilege of coaching,” said Georgia Tech head Coach Danny Hall.

Hall has closely observed the development of future Major Leaguer Barry Larkin in his days as a coach at the University of Michigan as well as Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek with the Yellow Jackets, plus other high profile hitters.

“Whatever the challenge is, he (Teixeira) is able to meet it head on and separate himself from the pack in terms of performance and skill level. He is a very dedicated, focused guy as well as being extremely mature. He has the whole package.”

Hall said Teixeira led the NCAA Division I hitters last year in runs scored at 104 which many people don’t realize.

“Most people think of Mark as a switch hitter with power who knocks runners in. But he can steal bases as well and is a smart runner,” Hall added.

Learning To Switch Hit
How did Teixeira become such a polished hitter from both sides of the plate? It all began at the ripe old age of three.

“I was barely walking when I began swinging a bat,” chuckled Teixeira.

“We have a unique history of baseball in my family. My dad played baseball at the U.S. Naval Academy and my Uncle Pete played baseball at the University of Florida and in the Atlanta Braves’ organization. Because of the history of baseball in my family, I got an early start. We played Wiffle Ball all the time and kept playing it until I began high school. Obviously, I hit plenty of real baseballs as well. But my friends and I played home run derby a lot with Wiffle balls. I had a special group of friends in the neighborhood who enjoyed playing this game for fun. Swinging the light bat helped your eye/hand coordination and was very important to my early success.”

Teixeira said he has always been a good hitter.

“It just came naturally to me. But I never took it for granted. I kept hitting all the time. My dad would throw me batting practice daily at a young age when he got home from work until dark. At the age of five, I began switch hitting. But I got frustrated and stopped doing it. I was a natural right-handed hitter and stayed that way until the age of 13. Then I started switch hitting again and worked and worked at it.

“After a period of time, hitting from the left side became natural and more power came. It took a long time. It probably wasn’t until the sophomore year of high school that I was completely comfortable with switch hitting. People might think it is easy to do if they are successful switch hitting in a batting cage. But it is light years different from a real game. You see curves, 90 mph fastballs, change ups and a whole assortment of pitches. To learn how to hit from the left side, you must learn to hit the ball the opposite way. Once I got that down, hitting from that side became much easier.”

Teixeira said he is not ambidextrous but was skilled with his left foot when he played soccer as a youngster and made layups with his left hand in basketball without any trouble. He has never thrown a baseball left handed.

On learning to be a disciplined hitter, Teixeira said, “Once I was in high school, pitchers know how to pitch well. You didn’t see fastballs down the middle. It forced me to learn the strike zone. My coach (Dave Norton of Mount St. Joseph’s H.S. in Severna Park, Md.) kept after me to not swing at pitches not in the strike zone since pitchers were trying to get me to chase bad pitches.

“I have never thought a walk was something bad. Some hitters hate to walk, but not me. I know a lot of hitters who would rather ground out than walk. But that is crazy. Walking helps the team and helps you. If you swing at balls, you will get yourself out.”

Teixeira was asked if he likes to take the first pitch to size up pitchers and get a feel for them, or if he prefers going after first pitches. “If the pitch is in my zone, I go after it immediately,” he said.

“Good pitchers try to get ahead in the count. If the ball is right there, why not drive it? If it is a great pitch that paints the corner, I let it go. My strategy on the first pitch of an at bat is just like the count is 3-1 or 2-0. It must be a great pitch where I want it.”

As far as his thoughts in the on-deck circle, he keeps it relatively simple.

“I prepare myself for my at bat beginning in the on-deck circle. You must know what type of pitcher he is.

If you faced him in the past, you have a base of knowledge on how he will pitch you. If you don’t know anything about the pitcher, you study him and try to pick up what you can in the on deck circle and in the dugout as well. Since I am a switch hitter, I study how pitchers throw to left-handed or right-handed power hitters. Once I get to the batter’s box, all I do is see the ball and hit it. I don’t think of anything else. I trust myself to react the way I can.

“You can’t over think in the box. You can’t have the voice in your head ask questions such as: What if he throws a curve, fastball in or away or a change up? If you do that, you are sunk. If I find myself doing that, chances are I will get myself out. It’s important for me to rely on my given hitting ability and simply to see the ball and hit it.”

Seeing The Ball
Teixeira said he doesn’t do anything unusual visually when he steps to the plate such as fine centering on the pitch.

“I look the pitcher straight in the eyes when I get to the plate. Once he breaks his hands in the delivery, I pick up the ball and drive it.”

He was asked what he does to get out of rare slumps.

“Usually nine out of 10 times, it is mental. I am usually trying to do too much. I may not be getting many pitches to hit, jumping at the ball or letting my back shoulder come down. To help get out of a slump, I use a batting T and hit balls or hit soft toss until my basic swing feels comfortable once again. For me, slumps are mostly mental. If I don’t feel comfortable in an at bat, I just won’t hit well.”

On being able to perform so well in a clutch time and time again, Teixeira said, “When nobody is on base, pitchers can be much more fine with you. But when runners are on, it gives hitters a huge advantage. I unusually get better pitches with men on base because pitchers must throw strikes. There is no room for error for them. I don’t bear down any harder with men on base. I just realize that the odds become better for me when these situations come up.”

Mental Skills Crucial
What also makes Teixeira so unique is that he has dissected the mental part of baseball and feels this knowledge is crucial to high performance.

“I purchased The Mental Game Of Baseball (written by Harvey Dorfman and Karl Kuehl) because the mental part of the game is so important to ball players.

“I feel properly utilizing the mind separates good players from great players. A lot of players have talent. Tapping the productivity out of the talent is the real key. If you have the mental edge, it can help propel you to the next level,” he said.

He discussed an American Legion game in which his team was down 11-0 in the third inning. However, the game was stopped due to rain and resumed the following day. His team came back the next morning and going into the ninth inning were only down by one run.

The first two batters struck out and the third batter walked. Teixeira came up to the plate and hit a 2-run homer to win the game.

“I learned a huge lesson in that game that you never, ever give up until the last out,” he said.

(This story is part of an ongoing Summer Instructional Series, Collegiate Baseball newspaper will be running in July and August. Please check back for more great ideas on playing baseball from top coaches and players. To subscribe to Collegiate Baseball, CLICK HERE.)