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My Tommy John Experience: Anthony Brady, Part 2

“I want it to be impressive that I’m just a great baseball pitcher, not that I’ve had TJS twice.”

This is the second and final portion of Anthony Brady’s story. If you haven’t already read the first part of his story, you must check it out here. It is remarkable, and truly inspiring. In this portion, he talks about how he kept going as a Division III pitcher facing his second Tommy John surgery. Brady also discusses the identity crisis he struggled with, of being known as a rehabbing athlete. If you have had Tommy John surgery and would like to participate in this series, feel free to email me at shawnbrody9@gmail.com, or DM me on Twitter (@ShawnBrody) to let me know.

SB: You talked about being a Division III pitcher at the time of injury. When I talk to people for this series, one of the questions that I end with is, ‘What would you do if you tore your ligament again?’ You were a Division III pitcher, and the stigma with that is that those types of pitchers don’t make it out of college. You essentially get four years, and then it is over. What propelled you to keep going, even with that in the back of your mind?

AB: That has always been in the back of my mind. I mean, I’ve always just dreamed of playing at the next level, playing professionally. I didn’t care that, out of high school, I was going to a D3 school. I had enough confidence and passion in myself that I thought I could play baseball at the next level. Even after the first surgery, I still believed that to be the case. After the second surgery, I wasn’t 100 percent sure if it was in the cards. But I had gotten back to being able to compete at that level, and I knew that I could perform.

As I started to come back and feel competition, a passion for playing again, I knew I wasn’t going to give up. I couldn’t stand the idea of not playing baseball anymore. I felt like I had been cheated, and I deserved so much more than I had been given at the time. I was not going to give up, and I was going to keep going for it. That kept me going through the second surgery a lot.

I think my senior year at Puget Sound really brought to light an issue that is overlooked a lot when it comes to Tommy John surgery. The most resentment I had ever developed for the game didn’t happen while I was rehabbing from Tommy John. It happened when I had come back and I was healthy my senior year. When I came back my senior year, I had just rehabbed for 30 months. I had done everything. I had beaten Tommy John twice. I’d been cleared to play again. Everything was good.

I came back, and I was absolutely awful. At the time, I was in the starting rotation. I think I had three or four starts where I didn’t make it out of the second inning in any of them. I was walking guys, giving up hits, making errors on bunts. It was awful. I had rehabbed for 30 months, given up basically my entire college career to this rehab, and I wasn’t performing at all once I came back. It was awful.

I couldn’t get outs, it was an absolute nightmare. I developed so much frustration and resentment, and I just hated it. I was scared. I was terrified on the mound. I was worried about losing. There was so much expectations and hype built up around me, because when you’re going through something like that, your teammates know this. There’s so many expectations out of your control that begin getting developed.

A guy coming back from Tommy John twice is pretty crazy, but there’s more to it. No one goes through the surgery to come out and just suck. They go out there to perform, because they love performing. For me, that’s exactly what happened. I didn’t come back from Tommy John twice to go out and absolutely suck. That was the hardest part of everything. That was the first time I had ever called and texted my dad after a game and told him that I’m ready to quit baseball. I’m done. I’m taking in my jersey tomorrow, it’s not worth it. I put in all this time, and I can’t even get outs at the DIII level. That was when my frustration, and almost hatred for baseball, was at an all-time high.

That was when my athletic trainer presented me with the resources to see a sports psychologist, and I think that was the biggest thing for me. We identified a lot of issues to where I was dealing with a lot of identity expectations, because I had become a really good rehabbing athlete. I was good at going in and getting my work done — training, improving. I could throw the hell out of a rehab bullpen. I could go out there and hit my spots in a bullpen, but I had seen three appearances of competition in 30 months. To go out there on the mound, it’s completely different. That wasn’t something I was prepared for. It wasn’t something I had trained for.

It felt safer to be a rehabbing athlete. Everything is measurable. You can see the gains, your range-of-motion increase, you can see velocity starting to go places, command improving. It was so much harder to deal with the competition side, because baseball doesn’t owe you anything at all. You can put the work in, make right pitches, and still go out to get absolutely shelled. That wasn’t something I was prepared for. I thought that I deserved something. That I deserved to perform well, to beat guys because I had gone through this crazy journey.

Seeing a sports psychologist and working with her was a huge part of shifting my mentality and really turning things around for me. That completely changed my perspective. I think the feeling of being comfortable as a rehabbing athlete, not necessarily being prepared or knowing how to look at competition, is hugely overlooked when it comes to a lot of injured athletes. I know that was hard for me to deal with.

Anthony his senior year at UPS

SB: There’s a quote from the movie Moneyball: “We're all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children's game, we just don't know when that's gonna be. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty, but we're all told.” Do you think that you kept going because you would rather be told that, than have an injury dictate it for you?

AB: My dad has always said something to that extent, but a little differently. Ever since I was younger, my dad always said, “Go out and play baseball until someone tells you that you can’t, and then go play for two more years.” I think that has always stuck with me, because it’s true. I’ve gone until multiple physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons have told me that I shouldn’t be able to play baseball anymore, and I’ve continued to keep going. There’s a little bit of not wanting to let the injury be the defining part of it, that I wasn’t going to let the injury beat me. If I was going to go out, I was going to go out on my terms. That second time around, I was 100 percent ready to quit.

I beat Tommy John. I was healthy, I was ready to go. I just wasn’t playing well. I wasn’t performing, at all. But I wasn’t going to let myself go down on the surgeries’ terms.

SB: Do you think that you had an identity crisis because you saw yourself as a baseball player, and that was what you were determined to be?

AB: A little bit. I developed more of an identity crisis with being an injured athlete. For the majority of my college career, I wasn’t a college baseball player; I was an injured athlete. That was what people all around campus, and everyone in the athletics department, knew me as. One of the things that I just grew to absolutely hate was, in the athletics department, whenever I ran into someone, they’d say, ‘Hey Anthony, how’s your arm feeling?’, or ask how my arm is doing, because that was it. That was the defining characteristic for me. It was never, ‘Hey how are classes going?’, ‘How are things going?’ My injury and the surgery ended up defining me for my whole college career, basically.

That was something that just added into that frustration and resentment that I began to develop the second time around. To be known every single day as an injured athlete, that was frustrating.

SB: Earlier, you talked about debating quitting and how you hoped a car hit you on your way to your trainer so that you didn’t have to deal with rehab any longer. Do you feel that you kept going because, in a way, you were shackled to baseball? Because you had gone through this rehab, you had to finish up?

AB: Yeah. I think that the identity plays into that aspect a little. Being known as an injured athlete, as this guy that is trying to do something crazy like coming back from two Tommy Johns — it kept me going at it not because I wanted to, but because I felt I had to. Everyone knew me as the guy that’s injured and trying to come back. That’s a great way to put it. I really did feel shackled to it, like I was forced to. Kind of like an obligation presented by my parents, and all my peers around me. I hated the idea of being seen as someone who quit, and I didn’t know how I would break it to people if I did stop the rehab and said I wasn’t ready.

And that’s why, when I was at my lowest, I really was always looking for something external — something out of my control — to just make it so that I couldn’t come back. To take that burden off me, that I had to keep showing up and keep doing it. That’s what it was at the time, an obligation and a burden.

SB: Was it hard to find rehab motivation the second time?

AB: Oh yeah, so hard. The hardest part about the second time was, again, the idea of, ‘is this even worth it?’ Every single time I’m doing a drill or trying to gain back range of motion or doing some exercise, I just kept asking myself if it is worth it. Thinking about how I’m going to be doing all of this for the next 16-18 months, I’d already done it for 12 months before, and at the end of that time I didn’t even know if it’ll be good. I had absolutely no idea if I’d come back healthy, I could always tear it again. I just had no idea if it’d work as planned, and that basically killed any motivation that I had.

Anthony pitching for the University of Northern Colorado

SB: You hear a lot of people who go through this surgery talk about how they got through it because they fought through it, they’re fighters. That fighting is how you get through this surgery. Do you feel that toughness is how you get through Tommy John recovery, or do you feel it is some other factor?

AB: I’d say maybe the first time I had a little bit of that. A little bit of the toughness, fighting through it. All about the ‘grind’ of coming back from Tommy John. I think also that was because I was a lot younger, more naive, and I didn’t understand. The second time, I wouldn’t say it was as much of me fighting through it. It was almost like I was trying to outlast it. I was trying to just endure the constant punches and blows that were being handed to me through all the setbacks. Everything that went on with the second surgery, I don’t think it was as much about fighting as it was me just trying to wear the punches. To continue and endure everything coming my way.

SB: Earlier you mentioned how you didn’t really understand what the surgery meant. Do you wish someone would’ve warned you what it was going to be like, in terms of the physical and mental anguish you dealt with?

AB: What I really wish that I had was relatability. I mentioned the constant up-and-downs that occur through this surgery, and that was the hardest thing to deal with. Not being able to relate to anyone. There wasn’t anyone up there who had Tommy John. I had never known anyone who had Tommy John. My athletic trainer had worked with some people who had Tommy John before, but he had never experienced it himself. That is what was tough because if I went out and threw at 120 feet one day, then the next day I’m working out to that distance and I start to feel something at a certain part of my elbow. In my head, pain alarms are going off and I have no idea what is going on — that pain shouldn’t be there, should it be there? Is that normal? Not having that relatability of what pain is all right, what irritation is comfortable, what is fine to work through and what is not fine to work through. That sucked. I wish that I had some sort of relatability, some sort of warning with someone who had experience with the injury.

On top of that, I don’t know that anyone can prepare you for the mental side. Myself, having two, if someone was to ask me for advice, I honestly don’t know what I’d tell them. It’s just that shitty. I don’t think there’s any workaround to it. I don’t know if there’s much advice that I’d give, some sort of secret formula to get you through it. As far as that goes, I don’t know if there’s any warnings or information that would help someone like that other than small things and conversations I’ve had with my athletic trainer about taking things one day at a time and shrinking up your scope. To focus on smaller, little things, and to not look at the long term. Things like that help, at times. But it’s brutal, and tough to get around that.

SB: This is something I’d really like people reading this to realize. Everyone who goes through Tommy John recovery feels those little tweaks, those little pains, and they worry if that is what is going to do their arm in. If it is happening all over again. If you have no one there, you really have no way to know if that’s a normal-pain or a pain-pain because you’re working muscles you haven’t worked in months. It’s something where you should have, or at least try to find, someone who has dealt with it before to help walk you through it. It is not something you can easily go through by yourself.

AB: That’s 100 percent true. After having the surgery twice, and it has been like four or five years since I had my surgery, so I’ve met a lot of people in the baseball world who are in the middle of Tommy John recovery and rehab. When they find out when I have had Tommy John, almost always within the first five minutes they ask if I ever felt pain or stuff like that in my elbow during my throwing program. Right away, my response is always yes, of course. That everyone does at some point in time. You feel something going on, it’s different. Whether it’s an irritation or a tweak. A small burn, a pain, whatever it is. I feel like everyone I talk to who has had Tommy John immediately asks.

Anthony coming out of the wind-up

They’re looking for the relatedness of whether that pain they are feeling is all right because, while you’re throwing, it’s pretty freaking scary. You’re playing catch at 90 feet and you feel something in your elbow, and you’ve already had surgery — in my case twice — and you don’t know if you’re busting up scar tissue, stretching out muscle, or doing damage to bone/ligament again. The anxiety that comes from that is hard to deal with, and the relatedness of being able to know someone or talk with someone who has done it before is a huge resource that anyone going through the recovery should consider.

SB: You’ve had it twice — what is your biggest takeaway from the surgery and recovery?

AB: People always say, ‘Damn, that’s brutal. I wish that didn’t happen to you.’ But I wouldn’t take any of it back. I wouldn’t change anything. I can answer that honestly whenever someone asks me that. I wouldn’t take away the surgeries, the recovery, the rehab. Anything. A lot of bad came out of it, but also a lot of good. I grew and matured more than I ever could have imagined. The classic ‘I’m such a stronger person because of it’ is 100 percent true after going through something like that. As far as life goes, I don’t think that there’s much that I can’t handle or outlast. Also, I developed and learned about a lot of passions that I didn’t know existed as far as exercise science and biomechanics, research within the field of sports performance goes. I grew, and learned a lot about myself along the way.

I also wouldn’t take any of it back because of the position I’m in now. I graduated from a good school, got my four-year degree, and now I’m in a master’s biomechanics program at a Division I university where I have an opportunity to play baseball. I think if these surgeries hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be in this position.

SB: Your scar. Do you consider it a badge of honor, reminder of a sense of failure, or a relic for a time of growth? Also, did you get a tattoo?

AB: I didn’t get a tattoo, and people have asked if I would. I flip back and forth on it a lot. I’d say, consistently and as of late, I’ve wanted to do the opposite. To not get a tattoo at all. I wanted to take all the attention away that was given to my scar. When I was at Driveline over the summer, at one point I stopped telling people I had Tommy John. I honestly didn’t want people to know, because it became sort of a handicap.

We’d be doing plyo-care drills or running throws, and someone would be like, ‘Damn, that’s crazy that you can still throw so hard for a guy that has had two TJS.’ At this point in my life, I’m still competitive at baseball. I still want to play professional baseball, I still have dreams of playing at the next level, and I still want to go onto the next level and continue to play baseball.

I hate the idea that people see it almost as a crutch for me, and are amazed that I throw well for a guy who has had two TJS. I want to be known as a guy who throws hard, because he throws hard. I don’t want that to be seen as a handicap. In that sense, I wish it wasn’t as much of a visible or well-known thing.

I do see [the scar] as a lot of honor. A lot of remembrance, and memories for what I’ve gone through. I have a lot of pride for what I’ve gone through. But, for the sake of competition and still playing, I don’t like the idea of seeing it as a handicap, or other people seeing it as a handicap for me. As of late, I’ve tried to draw less attention to it.

SB: So, you want to be ‘Anthony, guy who throws baseball hard’, not ‘Anthony, guy who has had two TJS’?

AB: Yeah. I just want to be a great baseball pitcher. I don’t want to be a great baseball pitcher that has had TJS twice, and that is why it is impressive. I want it to be impressive that I’m just a great baseball pitcher, not that I’ve had TJS twice.

. . .

Shawn Brody is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score, producer of In Play, Pod(cast), and pitcher recovering from Tommy John at Howard Payne University. He is a Senior double majoring in Business Management and Computer Information Systems. You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnBrody or email him at Shawnbrody9@gmail.com