Tommy John Arm

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 8, 2004

University of West Alabama senior pitcher Jason Herman entered the 2004 baseball season with nothing short of a competitive desire to help his team win a GSC championship. Herman entered the season as the most talked about pitcher on the mound in Division 1AA, not top mention a top prospect for the 2005 MLB draft. But on February 13, in just his third start of the season, Herman was forced to take a seat on the UWA bench after he felt what he referred to as a strong burning sensation, move violently through his right arm in the third inning of that game. And it is on the UWA bench that Herman does still sit, but now with a 95 mph pitching arm in a sling and a aching left knee.

The burning sensation Herman felt that day was at first thought to be a minor strain or pull to a muscle or tendon in his right elbow, but after further testing and weeks of rehabilitation, it was discovered that Herman’s pulled muscle was actually a severe tear to his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), and would need surgery to repair. On Tuesday the young right-hander was sent to Birmingham for a surgery commonly referred to as Tommy John.

The name Tommy John may not be a name that many would remember, but among pitchers it is a name that signifies not only surgery but pain, missed opportunities and a long road to recovery. But still for other pitchers, like Herman; the name Tommy John can mean hope.

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Tommy John, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, was the first player to ever have ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) surgery and was the first player that was ever able to beat the once career ending injury. Thus, ulnar collateral ligament surgery soon became known as “Tommy John” surgery.

This surgery usually replaces an injured ligament with a healthy tendon from another part of a patience’s body, giving the once torn ligament renewed function and capabilities. In Herman’s case, the tendon used to replace the torn ligament came from his right knee, which would explain the aching knee he now limps around with.

But don’t feel too sorry for Herman just yet. While he may be limping around right now, soon he will find that he has a new elbow that has no signs of damage and has never thrown a baseball. Not to mention the tendon from his knee used in the surgery will naturally grow back after separation, much like a lizards tail.

The bad part of the “Tommy John” surgery, however; is the recovery. Herman can expect 8-10 months of recovery time, which means three hours a day; seven day’s a week, in the training room.

“Right now it’s like torture, ” Herman said. “Everything I have to do with my rehabilitation is extremely painful.

But Herman is obviously a player that’s not about to allow something like this stop him from achieving his ultimate goal in life.

“It’s extremely frustrating for me right now to sit and watch and not be able to do anything this season, but like the old saying goes; there’s always next year. Yeah, it’s going to be tough, but it’s part of the game.”

While many can speculate weather or not Herman will ever be able to pitch again, UWA head coach Gary Rundles believes that it will be his character that ultimately answers that question.

“If Jason never pitches again, it will be because the injury he has sustained will not allow him,” Rundles said. “I know him to be a very competitive and very determined young man and I know he is prepared to do whatever it takes to get back.”

And so the Tigers must continue to battle this season without their ace pitcher in the lineup and must now win eight of their next 12 conference games to advance to the GSC Tournament.