On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, a week before the official start of spring practice, Eric Erickson steps out of the Hurricanes locker room at Alex Rodriguez Park. He approaches slowly wearing street clothes, calculated and confident as always. He reintroduces himself.
It’s been two years since Erickson pitched for the University of Miami baseball team. Two years since his first attempted comeback from Tommy John surgery. It’s hard to forget how hopeful the lefty was at the beginning of the 2010 season and how poorly it ended.
“I pitched with such an unbelievable amount of pain, it’s hard to describe,” Erickson said of his junior year. “It was like a running back making cuts and doing all that stuff with no ACL.”
Erickson’s 2008 surgery wasn’t holding up despite rehabbing through all of 2009, going by the book for Tommy John recovery. Erickson knew something was wrong.
“I was in and out of the doctor’s office … just asking them what’s going on. I just heard, ‘You know, this is normal coming back from a surgery like this,’” Erickson said. “It obviously wasn’t. I could barely even move my arm.”
Erickson declined to discuss what exactly went wrong with his first surgery, and stressed that he holds no ill will towards any members of Miami’s extended medical staff that first operated on him.
Nevertheless, he left nothing up to chance after failing to complete the 2010 season due to elbow pain. Erickson returned home to Tallahassee, took a trip over to Pensacola and consulted the esteemed Dr. James Andrews about his discomfort. Erickson’s suspicions were confirmed.
“He did the reevaluation, took new MRIs and he goes, ‘We’ve got to redo this thing because the ligament is completely separated,’” Erickson recalled.
Andrews performed a second Tommy John surgery, which is known medically as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, and referred Erickson to Tallahassee Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy for his rehabilitation.
Under the guidance of physical therapist Jerry Latimer and the rest of TOSPT’s staff, Erickson worked through a training program that he said the facility uses on professional athletes and MLB players. Erickson said he now feels the best he has in his entire career.
“It’s a huge break for us to get Erickson back,” coach Jim Morris said. “That was our number one guy for a while. It’s great for him but it’s great for us too.”
It’s easy to understand why Morris feels so fortunate having a pitcher from his 2007 roster take the mound in 2012. This is a player who has pitched under the pressure of a College World Series penciled in as his Friday night starter.
“I’m expecting big things,” said Oakland Athletics second baseman Jemile Weeks, who played with Erickson on that 2008 Hurricanes team that fell just short of a national title in Omaha. “He showed it to me while I was here and then he got hurt. I’m expecting nothing but the best.”
Miami opens up its season against Rutgers this Friday night and Erickson will take the mound on his 24th birthday, an age that is young by most people’s standards but one that makes him the elder statesman in the Hurricanes dugout.
“I saw him on TV my sophomore year of high school,” said sophomore lefty Bryan Radziewski, who will start for the Hurricanes on Sunday. “I saw him throwing 85 miles per hour. I was like, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”