How Baseball Propelled Me Into Science

A Gift in Disguise, Right in Front of My Eyes

Former six-year Major League Baseball pitcher, co-captain of the Arkansas Razorback team who finished 3rd in the College World Series, and Villanova pitching coach who won the Big East Conference Championship. If you know the sport, I’m sure you’re aware that this man must know a thing or two about baseball. And for those of you who may not be too familiar with baseball, this guy has lot of shiny rings: big ones. The well-accredited man I’m describing was my Little League coach, and my dad.

Even though he coached me, I did not see my dad very often with my parents divorced. Back in Little League, I would spend just about every spring and summer night up at the ball park, whether or not I had a game. This was possible back in the good ol’ days. Remember the days where little homework was assigned, and you could actually do other activities after class? Yes, well, I enjoyed spending time up at the fields, because my Little League experience was eventful, to say the least.

My Little League days consisted of winning annual hitting competitions, throwing a no-hitter in the championship game when I was 11, playing against 12-year-olds, and several news articles about me in the community paper. Over the years on our Little League’s all-star team, we won district championships, regionals, and went to the state championship. We were showered with championship banners and praises as we rode on fire trucks and floats in parades. Of course, my father coached me throughout all of these successes. Our Little League was no joke. The league even built a $1 million indoor facility to practice over the winter, due to our success. Honestly, somebody should have had the cameras rolling, because this could have been a reality show. I witnessed brawls between parents, and even heard of multiple law suits during my time in Newtown Edgmont Little League. But, this story is not about baseball, or even the near-reality show, “Little League Dads Gone Bad.” It’s about the important role that baseball played in allowing me to recognize my call as a scientist.

Fast forwarding to high school, baseball and sports in general remained constant as a big priority in my life. As a three-sport athlete, I made a special attempt to focus on the “student” part of “student athlete.” I performed well in my classes, especially my business electives. I represented my high school each year for three years in international business competitions held in Orlando, Anaheim, and Atlanta. I loved business, and it seemed to come to me naturally. I am outgoing, I like to talk, and I seemed to have a bright future in some types of sales.

Moving into my senior summer, I received fair deal of interest from colleges to play baseball. Many schools invited me to their personal camps and made arrangements to watch me pitch for my travel team at various summer tournaments. The summer after one’s junior year is the most important time for college baseball recruiting. Scholarships are offered and commitments are made at showcases, tournaments, and private camps. I had a strict summer schedule of where I was headed and for which schools I planned to pitch.

In the start of the summer, I juggled my baseball recruiting with summer- league basketball games, and football workouts for my high school. I did not realize that I could not keep up with this schedule, so my body sent the message loud and clear.

I felt my shoulder tear and heard a gruesome ripping sound.

I was coming off of a travel-team baseball tournament in Maryland, during which I had thrown seven solid innings. Unfortunately, I had a football 7-on-7 the next day. I knew quarterbacking that day was not going to come easy, as I massaged the sore parts of my arm and popped six ibuprofen into my mouth. In the middle of the scrimmage, I geared back through a long ball to an open receiver. The noise still haunts me to this day. I felt my shoulder tear and heard a gruesome ripping sound. Immediately, I took myself out and my day at quarterback was over. The arm works like a sling shot. I could not move my arm into the sling (cocked position) so how could there be any shot (firing of the ball)?

That night, I researched symptoms of my shoulder. I am sure many of you have been on and have experienced this. I typed in one symptom, and suddenly, I possessed every injury and disease known to man! I did not want to psych myself out anymore with the frightening results online of all the possible issues with my shoulder. It did not matter to me anyway. The remainder of my summer would impact the rest of my life, and I was not intending to sit out on injury.

I allowed my arm to rest over a few days; in hope that next time I went to throw, my arm would be miraculously healed. That next time was at Delaware University’s camp, where I had been invited by the coach. From the time I touched a ball, I knew something did not feel right. I started to throw, and felt like someone was stabbing a knife into the front of my shoulder. The pain was sharp and precise. After ten minutes of working through the pain, my arm went completely numb. Naturally, I continued to throw and pitch when the coach called my number.

Now I was sure that something was severely wrong with my shoulder. I did not want to go to the doctor, because he would sideline me for sure. I would miss out on opportunities in front of college coaches that I worked so hard to get. I started researching my arm injury again with a more determined attitude to understand what was going on. I had no time or margin to mess around. I watched shoulder anatomical videos, read journals, consulted blogs, and absorbed every piece of information that I could get my hands on about shoulder injuries in throwers. The internationally competing business man diagnosed himself with a torn labrum.

Photo by Colin/Flickr, Creative Commons

For the remainder of the summer, I pitched through the pain. I put aside quarterbacking and only threw when it was absolutely necessary, in front the eyes of a college baseball coach. Surprisingly, my performance increased, because I did not waste pitches. I went right after hitters challenging them to hit my best stuff and put it right in front of them. Coaches commended my up tempo and aggressive attitude. Little did they know it was only because I wanted pitching to be over as fast as possible with my arm throbbing on the mound.

Only after my summer of baseball came to an end did I see a doctor. I explained to him in depth my symptoms, what appeared to be happening inside my shoulder, and why I thought I had a torn labrum. He was impressed with my detailed knowledge, and asked if I had career plans in medicine. I informed him I did not, but I left the office that day thinking about the question the doctor posed. I had been so focused on where I would attend college and whether I would play baseball or not that I had kept a blind eye to what I wanted to do with my life. Had I overlooked other fields simply because I was successful in business? The shot clock was on to find answers with college application deadlines just around the corner. With all of these questions buzzing in my head, complications with my arm added to the perfect storm. The doctor gave me the good news first. “Andrew, your analysis was spot-on and your diagnosis was accurate.” Then the bad news: “Andrew, your analysis was spot-on and your diagnosis was accurate.” I had torn my labrum and needed surgery.

The confirmation of the MRI scared me, because I knew what labrum surgery entailed. Labrum surgery was a year-and-a-half recovery for pitchers, if they even recover at all. Sixty percent of MLB pitchers with this surgery return to the level of performance before the injury occurred. Did I also mention that labrum surgery ended my Dad’s career in the pros?

People had always told me, “Pick a school you would want to attend, even if you weren’t playing baseball there.” I brushed this question off until it became an unexpected reality that I might never be able to play baseball again.

I underwent surgery in the spring of my senior year, because I wanted to finish out my high school football and basketball careers. Since then, it has been a long recovery period, basically living in the physical therapy office. I continued the rehab here at Ursinus and it even landed me the killer nickname my baseball teammates call me, “Arm-care Murph.”

Photo by Frantzou Fleurine/Unsplash, Creative Commons

Time away from sports and the uncertainty if I would ever be able to compete again was tough. It taught me hope, persistence, and the fact that I cannot control everything. I can just do my best and leave the rest up to God.

As a Christian, I like to believe that everything happens for a reason. Was the reason I hurt my arm because it opened my eyes to my interest and passion in medicine? Currently, I am biology major and I am eager to begin my career in medicine, hopefully as a physician’s assistant with a sports focus. I am 1 year and 7 months out of surgery, my performance back to where it was before the injury occurred. Science has offered a career which I am passionate about, and given me another chance to be a part of a team and play the game of baseball that I love.

Andrew Murphy is a sophomore biology major and fellow at Ursinus College’s Center for Science and the Common Good.