My Wish for Patrick Corbin

When starting pitcher Patrick Corbin left his last start on March 15th my heart sank. What should have been his final tune-up start before leaving for Australia to become the Diamondbacks Opening Day starter was instead his final start for the 2014 season.

After getting a second opinion, it was decided that Corbin would require ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction surgery. This is commonly known as Tommy John surgery after Dr. Frank Jobe performed this surgery on pitcher Tommy John.

DSCN1676 2013-09-14Not to be too graphic, the surgery consists of the patient’s arm being opened up around the elbow. Holes are drilled in the ulna and humerus bones of the elbow and a harvested tendon (sometimes from the opposite arm, from below the knee, or from a cadaver) is woven in a figure-eight pattern through the holes and anchored. The ulnar nerve is usually then moved to prevent pain as scar tissue that forms from the injury can apply pressure to the nerve.

The rehabilitation from UCL surgery is typically 12 months although in some cases it is slightly shorter than that while others can take nearly 14 months to be fully healed. The elbow and arm are put into a sling or brace and the patient is not allowed to begin throwing for at least 16 weeks after the surgery. That 16 weeks can seem like an eternity and the overall 12-month rehabilitation can feel more like a prison sentence than recovery from an injury.

The good news is that the odds of full recovery have greatly improved over the years since the procedure was first completed. Dr. Jobe gave Tommy John odds of 1 out of 100 that he could pitch again. Now players are seeing complete recovery from 85-92 percent. In many cases pitchers have actually had better success post surgery than they did before the injury.

Of course all of this is academic as far as the player is concerned. All they know is that instead of looking forward to baseball and being in the clubhouse with teammates battling for a potential play-off spot they will instead wake up each morning to the realization that the highlight of their day may be going to see the doctor to find out when they can remove their arm from a sling or start sometimes painful rehabilitation exercises.

Over the past year I have had a couple of opportunities to meet and talk with Patrick Corbin. The most meaningful encounter I had was last August. To say 2013 was a bad year for me would be an understatement.

The year began with me going back to the orthopedic surgeon where I had my fourth shoulder surgery to repair damage from a lifetime of baseball. I’ve been playing some sort of ball now for nearly half a century and all of that wear and tear has taken a tremendous toll on my body.

In the last 16 years I have dealt with a torn rotator cuff, a torn labrum, bi-directional instability (I could dislocate my shoulder forwards and backwards at will), a ruptured triceps tendon and finally a biceps tendon that the previous surgeon had reattached at the wrong place basically shredding my shoulder for the past six years.

I remember the pre-surgery pain and the post surgical regime with heat, physical therapy, ice, and lots of pain medications. The physical therapy was humbling when progress meant pushing a washcloth across a flat surface and bringing it back. But as bad as the four shoulder surgeries were they were nothing compared to what I faced later in the year.

During preparation for shoulder surgery the doctors discovered a mass in my stomach that they felt could be cancer. It was decided that it needed to be removed.

Over the course of my life I have gone through reconstructive surgery on a finger, three knee surgeries, a wrist surgery, and the four shoulder surgeries so I mistakenly assumed that this one would be no different. But rather than quickly bouncing back like I thought I would, it has turned into months of slow progress coupled with bouts of frustration and depression.

But there was one thing that kept me going and it came from a rather unexpected source. When I came out of surgery my kids had all gone together and purchased me a Patrick Corbin All-Star jersey. They wanted to get it autographed but had been unsuccessful

When I was released from the hospital (the longest week of my life), I began the slow recovery of trying to return to some form of normality. I hung the jersey up as a reminder of the love my kids have for me.

The Arizona Diamondbacks heard about the jersey and wanted to help by getting it autographed. I thought that meant sending the jersey to the team so that they could ask Corbin to sign it. Instead I was invited down onto the field during batting practice before a game. Patrick Corbin came out and talked to me, posed for a few pictures, signed my jersey, and gave me an autographed bat.

I’ll never be able to express to him how much it meant for him to take a little time out of his busy schedule to spend a few minutes talking to a fan and autographing a jersey that has come to mean so much to him and his family.

That experience is one that I look back on each time the pain or struggles seem unbearable. I am reminded that my recovery is meaningful not just to me but also to my family and friends. The Diamondbacks likewise check in on me every so often and I have had several team representatives stop me at a Spring Training game to ask how I am doing.

That encouragement has meant a lot to me and kept me going when sometimes it feels like I cannot go any farther. The road in front of me will likely be filled with many roadblocks but that is why its important to have friends to help remove those obstacles.

When Patrick Corbin went into surgery this week part of me wished that I could do for him what he did for me. No one will ever ask for me to autograph a jersey to help bolster someone’s spirits but I want him to know that I am there for him. Not in a creepy stalker fan sort of way but someone who knows what he is going through and how important it is to listen to the words those doctors and therapists say.

I wish him the best of luck and a healthy and speedy recovery. There will be days when he will get frustrated and wonder whether it is worth it or if there is a future. I can tell him for certain it is definitely worth it and no matter what happens he will be a better person for the experience.

If he ever needs anyone to talk to, vent to, or simply sit in silence and think about what this experience means there are people there that can help. And if he just wants to hang out in the stands and compare scars he’s always got a spot in Section 132.

1 Comment

  1. WOW! Great story of dedication and determination. Thanks for sharing.

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