By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
Often times the holidays give us an opportunity to look back at our fondest of memories, and sometimes, the times we wish we could have back. Maybe the dawning of a new year brings this to the forefront of our thoughts, but every December I always find myself sitting around and looking back at how I got to this moment in my life.
I had my moment of reflection when I was throwing the football around my backyard earlier this week with my dog. After chasing her around for almost five minutes, I picked up what was left of the torn up ball and prepared to throw it across the grass. As my arm went back, my shoulder immediately told the rest of my body that this was not going to happen.
It was in no mood for these shenanigans.
As I rubbed my right shoulder to try and shake off the soreness and the general pain that accompanies me on a daily basis, I found myself thinking about how long it had been since the day I realized my baseball playing days were over. For the vast majority of you who do not know, I had two shoulder surgeries performed during my final two years of high school, which ultimately forced me to make an emotional retirement from playing the great game of baseball.
I remember exactly when I realized I had messed up my shoulder for good. In a meaningless scrimmage against Prosper, former Boyd head baseball coach Brandon Milam put me into the game to play second base. I had not warmed up much before being thrown on the field, but their hitters hadn’t hit a ball all day so I thought I would be ok.
As we were warming up, the first baseman rolled me a ground ball that I proceeded to pick up and prepare to fire back to him. I knew something went wrong in the process when I felt my shoulder pop completely out of socket, and I was not able to slide it back in. Being lanky like I am, I always had the ability to pop my shoulder in and out of socket at times, but always found a way to push it back in and keep playing.
Perhaps I had run out of lives in that right shoulder of mine.
As a wave of fear was about to rush over me, I realized that I was in a position battle with another player, and coming out of the game would seriously jeopardize my chances of earning the starting job. Furiously I tried to force it back in, having no regards to the fact that I was probably causing my shoulder more and more damage by the second.
After several valiant attempts, I bowed to the fact that I needed a trainer, but not until after the game. I turned towards the plate, my right arm hanging limply to the side, praying that the baseball isn’t hit my way.
Please, baseball gods. Don’t hit a ball to me. Please.
Two pitches later, I threw a guy out at first on a two hopper. Yup, I was in some pain.
Thankfully I was forced to make just one play in the inning and I could find some relief in the dugout. With the game being over, I asked the trainer for a bag of ice but refused to disclose the fact that my shoulder was still out. I was going to go to my parents first and see what I should do.
When I got home, I was finally able to get my shoulder pretty much back into socket, but the pain was not unbelievable. I told my parents that we needed to schedule a doctor’s visit pronto, because I could feel in my heart that I was seriously hurt.
Couple days later, I sat on a doctors table and was told that I had torn my labrum and would need surgery to repair the damage. Worst of all, I would be out of commission for at least eight months, and maybe longer depending on my rehab schedule.
Even though I knew something was really wrong with my shoulder, I still was holding out hope that it was all in my head. Surely it was just a teenager being overdramatic, I thought. Instead, I was going to face the most difficult journey of my life that would test me in more ways than I could ever have imagined.
I remember walking out of the doctor’s office and into the main lobby of the hospital. My mom was on the phone with my dad, and I could tell that both were as shocked as I was about the news. I began walking towards the door when something on the TV to my right caught my eye.
On the screen were highlights from the previous night’s baseball game, showing how the Texas Rangers were defeated in the 10th inning by the Boston Red Sox. I watched as the players threw the ball around the field and the hitters attempted to make contact with the ball.
I watched the greatest game I had ever known and wondered if I would ever be able to play again. The one thing in my life that had kept me out of trouble, in shape, and given me so many life lessons was possibly gone forever. At 17 years old, that kind of realization knocked me out emotionally for several days.
After taking a couple days to tell all my coaches and teammates, my parents and I arranged the surgery date and began the countdown to the big day. When it finally arrived, I couldn’t believe how calm I felt. Maybe it was the fact that my mom and dad were so nervous that naturally one person in the group becomes calm, but whatever the case may be, I was actually ready for it.
The months following the surgery was filled with doctor visits, rehab sessions, and fighting back the itch to play ball. As each therapy workout would go by, I was feeling stronger and stronger. I wanted to take that field again. I wanted to play the game of baseball more than I ever had in my entire life.
But as if the baseball gods weren’t making it clear enough that I should not be playing anymore, I found out later that year that I had popped one of the anchors off of the labrum, which was causing the discomfort and was hindering me from fully recovering.
I would need another surgery and would likely miss my entire senior season. The joke was no longer funny.
With the surgery and the lengthy rehab, I was only able to play on senior night, which will always be a night that my family and I will remember forever. Even though I had been cleared to play, I knew that my shoulder was not even close to 100 percent. It took me hours into the day to finally rid myself of the soreness in my shoulder, so think about how long it took me to warm up to throw.
After playing on senior night, I told my coaches and everybody that I was hanging the cleats up for good. My Bronco team had made the playoffs for the first time in school history, and I wanted to sit back and enjoy the ride without having to put my body through pain every day.
Do I wish I could still be playing the game today? Sometimes. I watch my brother play at Paris Junior College or watch some summer league game and wish that I could get one more at bat. But what has this injury given me in my life?
It has given me the opportunity of working for Town Square Buzz. If I were still playing, I would not have had the opportunity to write this and share it with my peers. I am thankful every day that I am in the position that I am, and without two procedures on my right shoulder, I would not be the sports editor for a fantastic news site at the age of 21.
It has given me more growing pain moments that I could ever have imagined. I can’t even recognize the boy I used to be when all of that was going on, but every hardship and every lesson that this process has made me overcome has shaped the kind of man I have become today.
Lastly and most importantly, it has given me more memorable moments with my family that I could ever have if I was away playing ball somewhere. While some people my age may cringe at the thought of interacting with your folks on a daily basis, I love the fact that I have them around and can always go to them for anything. I don’t know if I would have the kind of relationships I do with my mom and dad if I was still playing baseball.
So when you are sitting around this holiday season and the memories of your past begin to fly around your mind, I hope that you look back at the darkest hours and realize that something positive can rise up, only if you are willing to look and work for it.
I found my calling in life because of the most difficult experience of my young life. And in the spirit of the holiday season, I am thankful for the understanding every day.