Updated: Apr 5, 2022
Sometimes, just when you think you're out of the woods, life just comes back and kicks you in the butt again. My redshirt freshman year was... an interesting one. I began the year continuing my rehab from the Tommy John surgery I had the year before. Everyday I saw my progression get one step closer to my end goal - pitching for Cabrillo College and doing it with pride. As this season progressed, it had presented a number of challenges all the way from being 10th out of 10 pitchers on the depth chart, to not being able to get my velocity back, to the fact I was on the team but did not quite feel a part of the team. It was nobody's fault but my own.
As previously stated, I mentioned when I was out with Tommy John the year before, and it allowed me to see what it meant to be a great teammate. Man, let me tell you. My third and final season really showed me what my character was about. But it got off to a rocky start. A large cloud of doubt filled my head. Had I really soaked in all the information I could about my injury and would I be able to apply it? Even if I did apply it, would I still be an effective pitcher? At this point in time, I really didn't know...
I often went in the office and talked with head coach Bob Kittle about me seeing the field and he always said, “Andy, I would do anything to put you on that field, nobody deserves it more, but until you can compete on that mound I cannot do that to this team”. I couldn’t have agreed more. As the season concluded, and we entered for our exit meetings, it was very clear from Coach Kittle and pitching coach Mike Ditano that they wanted me back, but if a school came to offer me, I would have to truly consider it. These two coaches from day one always had my best interest at heart and only wanted to see me succeed, which is why I felt that, as I went into the summer, I would ramp up my throwing program weight lifting schedule and try to be 100% ready come day one of my last season.
During the summer, I was fortunate to meet local legend and incredible pitcher in his day, Greg Press. This man helped me for several weeks learn what it meant to “feel” the pitch. A lot of pitchers in the game today are “throwers” not “pitchers,” and it really takes a great deal of practice to understand how to transition from one to the other. During this time Greg helped me build up arm strength, train harder, learn new pitches (specifically a change-up), and how to study the hitters. As the fall season approached, I knew I was in the best physical and mental shape I had been in been in since Tommy John. Nothing was going to stop me in my last year. Nothing.
About a month and half into fall season, right around October, we drove up for a weekend series at Fresno Community College and I was scheduled for a few outings if all went well. The prior weeks allowed for this, as my velocity was up on my fastball, my new change up was dirty, and my slider had some serious movement. I get the nod from coach Ditano to get ready down in the bullpen, as I have done many times before, feeling great. About 40 pitches into my outing, the inning concluded and as was in the dugout giving high fives, I noticed I couldn’t really lift my arm to do so. At first I thought “Wow, that really got me tired, and to think it was only 40 pitches.” I did not like the sound of that because I was trying to slowly work my way back into the starting rotation for some weekend league starts in the upcoming season, if at all possible.
As the weekend concluded and we were back in Santa Cruz, I remember sitting on my couch playing video games with my roommates thinking I about how I could not really feel my shoulder, with the exception of some pretty steady pain. Monday came around, and I went out to practice as I did every day. As I tried to start my warm up routine I couldn’t even make a throw 10 feet from my partner. The “pain” instantly surrounded my shoulder. For a second, I thought to myself, “What the hell… Maybe I slept on it funny.” Nonetheless, coach Kittle sent me to go see head trainer Mark Ramsey. Mark started doing a bunch of different tests on me. “Does this hurt?”, “What about this?” I remember answering, “No. No. Ouch!” Yes. At that moment he and I both knew that I was in trouble. He would not come out and say it directly, even though our relationship to this point would have allowed it, but I had torn my labrum. Instead, he said, “You may have strained your rotator cuff or labrum.” He always looked out for me and knew how much work I had put in at this point to be able to compete at that high level, and he did not want to give me the bad news. Since it was fall season, stopped throwing for few days. I did my rehab protocol and tried to fight the pain. It never really went away after that.
Fast forward to winter meetings, and Coach Kittle and Coach Ditano sat in the office together in front of me, going over how I was feeling going into the season. I remember sitting there going, “I feel great. I will be good to go." Coach Kittle always had this way of knowing when a player was lying, and I did not do it intentionally, but I wanted to play. He responded, “Andy, we have been honest since day one, don’t stop now. Tell me how you are really feeling?” I just remember breaking down, expressing my frustration with my lack of progress. Thank God for those coaches, as I never could’ve made it out of Cabrillo if it weren’t for their unconditional love and support. They knew I was in a tough spot and they were there for me.
As advised, I took the weekend to think about it. I wanted to give it one last go - everything I had - no matter the pain or opportunities that had been taken away from me. Before Coach Kittle could even text me on Monday, I met him in his office unannounced and said, “I do not back down from a fight. You saw something in me when you recruited me. I am here until my arm falls off. You have my word that I will be competing in the blue and black.”
To be continued...
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