Health

Value Of Proper Sleep For Athletes Explored

Value Of Proper Sleep For Athletes Explored

Dr. James MaasBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

FORT WORTH, Tex. — Everyone endures sleepless nights. When a pattern of sleep deprivation takes place with athletes, serious consequences can occur as performances suffer on the field and in the classroom. Dramatic mood swings happen as well.

Those in the game of baseball have broken down almost everything in the quest for high level athletic achievement. And that can take the form of better nutrition, weight training, mental training, video technology and progressive teaching concepts specific to the different skill sets required. But rarely do coaches talk about proper sleeping habits which may be among the most important aspects of athletic performance.

Sleep is not something to take lightly.

Sleep deprivation has been utilized as torture, a tactic favored by the KGB and the Japanese in prisoner of war camps in World War II. Going without sleep is intensely stressful with unpredictable short and long-term effects. People lose the ability to act and think coherently.

Hallucinations, paranoia and disorientation are just a few of the symptoms of prolonged sleeplessness.

Collegiate Baseball is offering this exclusive interview with Dr. James Maas who will discuss how to achieve proper rest.

Dr. Maas is a leading authority and international consultant on sleep and performance who has studied the subject more than four decades as a professor at Cornell University where he taught more than 65,000 college students.

He recently wrote a book with Haley Davis called Sleep To Win!: Secrets To Unlocking Your Athletic Excellence In Every Sport.

The staff of Sleep To Win have presented highly successful programs on sleep to scores of corporations, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Figure Skating Association, New York Jets, Philadelphia Flyers, Ottawa Senators and Orlando Magic. But one sport they have not been involved with is baseball.

“About 70 percent of Americans aren’t meeting the 7 ½ to 8 ½ hour sleep requirements as adults,” said Dr. Maas.

“Sleep needs go up from puberty to about the age of 26 which involves everyone from middle school kids to Major League ball players. The amount of sleep this group of people needs to be fully alert and full of energy is 9 ¼ hours of sleep per night. If you ask this group of people how many hours of sleep they get a night, they will claim they are sleeping about seven hours. This includes regular students as well as athletes.

“But we have done actual brain wave studies in home monitoring, and they are really only getting about 6.1 hours of sleep a night. They are so sleepy that they don’t even know how little sleep they are getting. These people are in essence ‘walking zombies.’

“They think that because they eat well or appear to be in good athletic shape that this is enough. But they are missing 1/3 of the equation. We have been studying the effects of sleep deprivation both athletically and cognitively for years. And we also have studied lack of sleep with basic physiology.

“The findings aren’t of immediate concern. But they have long term repercussions to our younger athletes. Drowsiness at inappropriate times is a concern. During the mid-day dip in alertness that we all have in the middle of the afternoon, if you are sleep deprived as these youngsters are, the dip is even more serious.

“And this is often the time when baseball games on the high school and college levels are played. Obviously, when the brain and body is tanking because of lack of sleep, the athlete can’t perform at his highest level.

“So the athlete shows drowsiness, an increase in irritability, anxiety, depression and weight gain. For middle age people and older, there is a much higher risk of heart disease and Type II diabetes. Cancer has even been linked to sleep deprivation.

“Loss of sleep can impact a player’s teamwork, sense of humor and impact his motor skills.”

Dr. Maas said studies have shown reaction time deteriorates with athletes who suffer from sleep deprivation.

“This all happens during chains of events whether it is a pitcher who has to throw a quality pitch or a batter trying to hit a pitch. As an athlete, you must have your body synchronized in the athletic discipline you are trying to achieve in the proper firing sequence, so you don’t have to think.

“It all should be an automatic motor muscle memory. But when you have a lack of sleep, that chain of events can be seriously disrupted.

“When the athlete is sleep deprived, he has a lack of awareness and suffers from the ability to remember and think critically and creatively as one has to do to make a split second decision in baseball. You might make poor decision skills when balls fly off the bat or not looking at the third base coach who is waving you on…many different situations like this.

“There are a whole slew of events which happen, and sleep deprived athletes are blissfully unaware of how much they have lost over what they could be.”

For More Information: To read more about the importance of proper sleep, why young adults need 9 1/2 hours every night, how it can help athletes play at a higher level, how motor muscle memory will be enhanced, how to choose the proper mattress and pillow, why blue spectrum light from electronic devices can impair sleep, what the ideal sleep routine should be and how to solve the problem of jet lag, read the special 2-part series which starts in the April 5, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. Part two appears in the April 19, 2013 issue. Single copies can be purchased for $3 each. Click here for more information.

Are Pitchers Being Coddled Too Much?

Are Pitchers Being Coddled Too Much?

Hand CounterBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

HOUSTON, Tex. — Talk to any pitching coach, and the subject of pitch counts will undoubtedly come up.

While the sport hemorrhaged more than half a billion dollars for players on the disabled list last season, the answer to elbow and shoulder injuries is still an elusive mirage.

On the college, high school and youth baseball levels, elbow and shoulder surgeries to pitchers are costing parents millions of dollars each year. For years, the medical community has recommended that college and professional pitchers throw 120 or fewer pitches a game. 

But that is hardly the total answer when you are dealing with pitching mechanics or hurlers throwing a large number of stressful pitches in one inning. According to The Cultural Encyclopedia Of Baseball,  pitch counts were not utilized for many years in pro baseball. The main factor was how successful the pitcher was. If his velocity went down or he was laboring, the pitcher was simply taken out. Common sense ruled the day.

Sandy Koufax averaged 155 pitches per game in one season during the early 1960s which was not unusual for that era. Nolan Ryan was an absolute workhorse. He threw 235 pitches in a 12-inning game against the Red Sox in 1974. He also threw 241 pitches in a game for the Angels in the mid-1970s. Ryan believed he averaged between 160-180 pitches per game in 1974. Washington Senators’ pitcher Tom Cheney threw 228 pitches in 1963 as he struck out 21 Orioles in a 16-inning game. Luis Tiant threw 163 pitches in a complete game win by the Red Sox over the Reds in Game 4 of the 1975 World Series.

In 1987, there were 106 performances where a pitcher threw at least 140 pitches in a Major League game. Eight years later in 1995, that total was only 36. The protocol by the late 1990s was 120 pitches as the limit to keep pitchers healthy.

If you think these numbers by starting professional pitchers were high years ago in pro baseball, the Japanese really push the envelope when it comes to high pitch counts.

In a remarkable story by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently, he discussed Japan’s national high school baseball tournament which takes place twice a year. Recently the spring championship took place, and a young 16-year-old boy named Tomohiro Anraku of Saibi High School threw 772 pitches over 46 innings in five days.

He started the tournament with a 94 mph fastball and threw 232 pitches over 13 innings in his first contest. Then he threw 159, 138, 134 and 109 pitches in succeeding games. In his last game, not surprisingly, he could barely muster enough arm strength to throw fastballs 80 mph as he gave up nine runs during an eventual 17-1 drubbing.

According to Passan, the ultimate compliment for a baseball player in Japan is to be called Kaibutsu which translates to “Monster” and symbolizes an athlete who performs at a remarkable level during the national tournament.

Passan also pointed out that 15 years ago at the Japanese national high school tournament that Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches over 17 innings during a quarterfinal game. Then he pitched the next day in relief. And a day later, Matsuzaka fired a no-hitter in the finals.

He pitched eight seasons in Japan pro baseball dominating hitters and signed with the Red Sox for $103 million for six years. In his fifth year at 30 years old, he blew out his elbow which required Tommy John surgery. And he wasn’t able to make the Cleveland Indians as the fifth starter out of spring training.

Tracking High Pitch Counts
For years, Boyd Nation has produced a web site called www.boydsworld.com which features college baseball ratings and analysis.

One of his categories is the Pitch Count Watch in NCAA Division I.

This season, he uncovered 13 outings by pitchers that resulted in 140 pitches or more. Box scores either have actual pitch counts or the number of batters faced. So some of the counts are estimates that are extremely close.

The highest number this year was an estimated total of 183 by pitcher Josh Freeman of Alabama A&M when he threw 9 2/3 innings against Jackson St. on April 6. He faced 50 batters, walked 11, and had 4 strikeouts as he gave up 10 hits in the 5-4 loss to Jackson St.

No actual pitch count was listed in the box score of this game — only batters faced. But if Freeman threw an average of 4 pitches to each of the 50 batters, the count would be 200 pitches.

And it isn’t unreasonable to assume he hit that figure or higher with the number of walks he registered and strikeouts. Alabama A&M’s sports information department and baseball office were called to seek an actual pitch count for Freeman. But nobody called Collegiate Baseball back with Freeman’s pitch count total for this outing as of press time.

Late-Season Heroics
Last season saw two pitchers go far beyond what hurlers normally do.

RHP Taylor Sewitt of Manhattan College pitched 22 scoreless innings over three straight days at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament to guide the Jaspers to the league title. He struck out 20 batters, allowed 10 hits and won three games as he threw 296 total pitches. He began with a nine inning complete game, 1-0 victory over Fairfield on a Friday with 12 strikeouts. The next day, he came out of the bullpen and held Canisius scoreless in the final two innings of a 5-4, 10-inning walk-off win. Then on Sunday, he pitched 11 scoreless innings to lead Manhattan to a 3-2 win.

Mitch Crocker of Westmont College (CA) accomplished something that may never have been done in college baseball history as he recorded three wins over a 25-hour period. Those wins allowed Westmont to quality for the Golden State Athletic conference tournament for the first time in 15 years.

After losing the first of the four-game series to Vanguard, Westmont went on to win the next three in must win scenarios.

In game two, which was scheduled for seven innings, Crocker took the mound in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded, two outs and the score tied at three. The righthander coaxed Van-guard’s Alec Rosales to ground out to end the threat. After Westmont scored three runs in the top of the eighth, Crocker returned to the mound and pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth to record the win.

The next day, Crocker was called in the seventh after the Warriors had given up five runs and fell behind, 9-8. With two outs and runners on the corners, Crocker struck out Adonis Tountas to end the rally. After Crocker pitched a scoreless top of the eighth, Westmont’s Tim Leary belted a 2-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to put the Warriors back on top, 10-8. Crocker then retired the side in order in the top of the ninth to earn his second win. Upon returning to the dugout, Crocker told his coaches that he was ready to go back out in the second game of the doubleheader.

Crocker then went out and pitched a complete game, giving the Warriors an 8-2 win. He gave up one run in the second and third innings, but kept the Lions scoreless in the final six innings. In those three games over 25 hours, Crocker threw 173 pitches in 12 2/3 innings of work. He allowed two runs on 10 hits, struck out nine and walked three.

Where Baseball Is Today

Derek Johnson, pitching coordinator with the Chicago Cubs, weighed in on pitch counts in baseball.

“The reality is that pitch counts are where baseball is today,” said Johnson.

“Years ago when I played, starting pitchers would have much higher pitch totals than today. And common sense was the tool that determined when a pitcher was pulled or not. If pitches were getting up in the zone or you saw velocity drops, fewer strikes and a change in mechanics, then pitchers were getting tired and were usually taken out.

“On the professional level, we are talking about protecting pitchers who are being paid millions of dollars. We always have to be vigilant on whether we need to have pitchers back off on innings or games or continue pitching. And every pitcher is different.

“There are variables within the pitch count as well. One is how stressful innings are and how quickly he got to 100 pitches and the history that a pitcher may have. Was his arm abused in travel ball at a young age or at another level? At the end of the day, the game needs a subjective measure on whether a pitcher will break down. But that’s not the easiest factor to determine.”

Johnson was asked if pitchers are being babied too much now.

“There is a fine line to walk between coddling a pitcher and abusing him. You obviously don’t want to be overprotective. But you don’t want to injure him either. The bottom line is that each pitcher is different, and you must treat them accordingly.”

Unique Approach In 2012
While more teams than ever are monitoring pitch counts on the high school, college and professional levels with precision, and utilizing closers late in games, the University of Arizona won the 2012 national championship by extending their starting pitchers deep into games.

Wildcat starters finished with 16 complete games, including eight over its final 19 contests. It was the most complete games in a single season at the school in the last 23 years.

To put this in perspective, Arizona had the same amount of complete games as the entire Southeastern Conference made up of 12 teams.

In 36 games, their top three starters worked into the seven inning at a minimum.

Kurt Heyer ultimately threw 2,212 total pitches while Konner Wade fired 1,851 pitches and James Farris 1,612.

And interestingly, there were no pitching injuries last season.

“From a pitch count perspective, our magical number is 125 pitches,” said Wildcat pitching coach Shaun Cole.

“Once a pitcher hits that number, we really watch him carefully. We usually make a decision at that number. But we also watch pitchers throughout the game and monitor their velocity. If it drops or command starts being an issue, we might pull them.

“There were plenty of times last season when we went out to visit Kurt Heyer at the 125-pitch mark, and he still had a lot more in the tank. The most we ever allowed Kurt to go to was 135 pitches.

“But other guys might not be able to go past the fourth inning without showing problems.

“Every pitcher is different when it comes to how far they can go in games.”

Cole said that the time of year must also be taken into account.

“If it is early in the season, why would any coach press a pitcher to go 125 or 130 pitches? But late in the year if a pitcher is conditioned well and his velocity hasn’t dropped, you probably should consider letting that pitcher go a little longer depending on the game.

“But at the same time, nobody really knows what the exact number should be in a pitch count. From a coaching standpoint, you never want to hurt a young man’s arm. Staying consistent with what works well helps tremendously. Knowing what a pitcher can handle is important as well.”

Cole feels pitchers are babied too much today.

“In Nolan Ryan’s day, there was a mentality of finishing games by starting pitchers. Pitchers today, and probably a lot of position players, simply don’t throw enough.

“I feel catchers should throw more than they normally do. Catchers can strengthen their arms by throwing to second but with the second baseman standing behind the bag on the outfield grass.

“When the middle infielder comes back to the bag, the throw by the catcher is much easier. Throwing more often with position players is an area that is not addressed much.”

Youth Baseball Limits
With the rise in elbow and shoulder injuries to youth baseball pitches, the American Sports Medicine Institute feels important steps must be taken to minimize such injuries.

ASMI suggests watching and responding to signs of fatigue (such as decreased ball velocity, decreased accuracy, upright trunk during pitching, dropped elbow during pitching or increased time between pitches).

If a youth pitcher complains of fatigue or looks fatigued, let him rest from pitching and other throwing. For specific pitch count limits in the different youth age groups, go to www.asmi.org  

To obtain this issue of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe, CLICK HERE.

Concussions Can Cause Major Problems

Concussions Can Cause Major Problems

Figone Concussion GraphicBy AL FIGONE, Ph.D &
JUDY KARREN
Special To Collegiate Baseball
(April 19, 2013 Edition)

FOLSOM, Calif. — Concussions in football have been well documented.

But what about baseball? Ryan Freel, who spent six of his eight Big League seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, was not the first Major Leaguer to take his own life.

But, the circumstances surrounding the former Tallahassee Junior College standout’s suicide were. Freel, 36, was found in his Jacksonville, Fla. residence on December 22, 2012 after an apparent suicide.

 “I don’t know how many times he would talk about sliding into second or third base and blacking out or seeing stars,” stated Freel’s former wife Christie Moore Freel.

“I know a lot of people say they weren’t shocked by it, but I really was. I really thought at some point, the answer to all of this would come along for him. It just never did. I’m very hopeful. We certainly believe there is some sort of connection (to concussions).”

Freel’s step-father Clark Vargas believed Freel sustained at least 10 concussions in baseball and his ex-wife shared the story of a Venezuelan winter league game in which Freel had to be hospitalized for a concussion after running through a fence.

After one of his last concussions in MLB, Freel reported he stayed in bed for five days, was unable to read very much, and driving made him sick and dizzy. The family has donated his brain to the Boston University Center for the study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathology (CTE).

An undersized player by MLB standards, Freel was a player who played the game with a hell-bent for leather attitude.

He was a super utility player who stole 143 bases, and hit .269 in eight MLB seasons.

“I don’t have the size and the power, but have the heart. Anybody can have that,” he’d tell youngsters who aspired to become MLB players.

Baltimore’s Brian Roberts knew something was wrong after sliding head first into first base against the Red Sox in May 2011. There was no collision with a knee or other body parts of the defensive player covering first. The two-time All-Star got up, and his head began pounding and his vision was blurred.

Roberts looked across the diamond and did not recognize any signs from the third base coach.

“I think that was the scariest part,” Roberts said. “I knew something was wrong.”

He had suffered a concussion from the whiplash effect of the slide. And it was the second in about seven months.

Two days later, he was placed on the disabled list and did not return to the Orioles until June 13, 2012 which was more than year after the injury. He had also concussed himself in September 2010, just five games before the end of the season.

To read more about this in-depth story on concussions, purchase the April 19, 2013 edition. To obtain this issue or start a subscription, click here.

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.

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.

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.