Under the parched and sweltering desert sky, Gators’ pitcher Peter Reyes could feel the strands of his ligaments tear with each heave of the ball to home plate.
Ignoring the pain only made matters worse for the junior pitcher and eventually his elbow gave out. It was inevitable that he would have to endure Tommy John surgery, a reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament in the medial elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.
“I think it was torn for a while then it kept getting worse,” Reyes said. “When I played summer baseball in Palm Springs I completely tore it (and) when I came back to school that year I couldn’t throw at all.”
Ulnar collateral ligament damage is one of the most common injuries in baseball and the surgery has one of the most challenging recoveries, which can take anywhere from one to two years on average.
“The recovery process is long,” said SF State head athletic trainer Bryce Schussel. “It’s an injury that after a few months might start to feel good like you can throw, but there’s a lot of times that we have to wait to let that ligament heal before we put any stress on it.”
Common causes of UCL damage are repetitious movement paired with throwing mechanics and the type of pitch.
Following the surgery, Reyes went through a slow rehab process and was forced to spend his junior year as a redshirt, meaning the dormant year will not count toward his four eligible years to play college baseball competitively.
“We have a rehab progression that we do with the athlete,” Schussel said. “It starts with general range in motion, to strength, then to doing more complex exercises before he can actually start to throw a baseball.”
Reyes said being away from the sport was the worst part of the recovery process. He never doubted that he would not be back on the pitcher’s mound again.
“My motivation was to keep playing baseball,” Reyes said. “Baseball has pretty much been my whole life and I couldn’t imagine not playing the sport I love.”
Baseball head coach Mike Cummins said he saw how much work Reyes put in during his 11-month rehab process.
“His attitude during all this has been awesome,” Cummins said. “He’s worked his butt off to get back. He had the operation in November 2013, and he’s back throwing full strength now in just over a year. Sometimes it takes 13-18 months and he’s back throwing after 11 (months) and it’s because he’s worked hard at it.”
Prior to his surgery, Reyes pitched a solid sophomore year, appearing in 18 games and starting in three, with a 2.97 earned-run average with five saves. The Gator pitcher also struck out 16 batters in 33.1 innings on the mound.
This season, the redshirt junior is coming onto the mound pitching at full strength and pain-free. He has already pitched in three games this year with his best performance coming from a game against University of California, San Diego where he pitched 5.2 innings, only gave up three hits, had no earned runs and struck out two batters.
Coach Cummins is confident Reyes will continue to make strides going forward and that his better days are ahead of him.
“He’s kept a positive attitude and he’s a great kid,” Cummins said. “He’s worked real hard and with guys like that you love to root for them.”
The Gators are returning from dropping three straight games to Fresno Pacific University and are now preparing for their upcoming home games this weekend against Cal State Los Angeles.