By Cameron Francis and Ray Hasanaj
The Tower (Grosse Point, Michigan)
The baseball’s stitches met those of the catcher’s mitt, a sound that everyone in close proximity of the diamond could hear. Instantly, the ball was back in the hands of pitcher Joey DiMambro ’18. He cocked his arm back and threw another pitch.
DiMambro was a starting pitcher on his fed-ball team, facing batter after batter. However, after excessive throwing, he faced a new opponent; DiMambro had a stress fracture in his elbow, an injury so serious and progressing that he eventually lost his spot in the starting rotation.
“My elbow injury lasted until I was 14. Then I had shoulder pain and I tried to go through my first high school season,” DiMambro said. “It just continuously got worse, so we decided to get it checked out.”
DiMambro went through intense physical therapy for over three months, he said, but it wasn’t enough to reduce the overbearing pain. Surgery was now his only option if he wanted to pitch again, but the procedure would hinder his abilities in the upcoming season.
“(The surgery) resulted in me getting less prepared for the season, which resulted in me having a rough start,” DiMambro said. “It took me a while to get into it and my arm is still not 100 percent, so it’s tough.”
The surgery also prohibited DiMambro from attending a full week of school, he said. Upon returning to the classroom, he needed to be cautious of school work and other students.
“I always have to be concerned about how I’m using my arm,” DiMambro said. “Say I’m just messing around with the guys, I can’t get hurt. I’m never going to do more than I can just to prove a point or just to do good with my friends.”
In regards to his baseball performance, DiMambro said that he has yet to reach his previous throwing state.
“It sucks because I can’t do as well as I want to and my arm is just not the same,” DiMambro said.
The former pitcher has found a new position on the junior varsity team—outfield. While outfielders do not throw the ball as frequently, they still require strong arms in order to efficiently hit their targets in the infield.
“I can’t throw people out or get zip on the ball like I used to,” DiMambro said.
This initially put great pressure on DiMambro, he said. Teammates with healthier arms gave DiMambro fear that he would lose another starting position, leaving him with no defensive spot on the field. Offensively, DiMambro had to adjust four places in the batting order, moving from the second batting position all the way to the sixth.
DiMambro adds that being able to pitch again in high school is a goal of his and that he’s just “got to look forward.”
DiMambro’s injury situation is hardly unique; high school baseball players around the nation have experienced similar injuries and are very familiar with the accompanying struggles. Recently conducted statistics state that high school baseball players have been greatly affected by serious arm injuries.
Representatives from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital say that, although injuries in high school baseball have dropped by 10 percent, “the severity of injuries that occur has increased, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.”
According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, potential explanations for the increase in the severity of these injuries are attributed to the increase of intensity during competition and the size and strength of players resulting in them throwing faster.
Varsity Head Coach Dan Griesbaum believes arm injuries are becoming more prevalent due to the additional playing opportunities students have in the offseason.
“Summer baseball has changed a lot in the last ten to 15 years. (High school players) are going a lot now to tournaments where there’s concentrated playing Friday through Sunday,” Griesbaum said. “They’re doing a lot of throwing those days. A lot of the summer and year round stuff that’s going on has caused a lot of these arm injuries.”
In simplistic terms, Griesbaum says the throwing related elbow and shoulder problems are “overuse injuries.” Because of this, he advocates taking an actual break from baseball during the offseason.
“Doctor James Andrews from Pitch Smart has said that high school athletes need to shut down their arms at least, bare minimum, two to three months,” Griesbaum said. “(High school players) really do not and should not play year round.”
Griesbaum encourages other sports and forms of exercise during the offseason.
“A lot of coaches are telling kids to specialize in a sport at an early age and that’s just totally wrong,” Griesbaum said. “They need to play as many sports as possible. There’s carry over value plus you need a break from one sport and you get burned out if you don’t (have a break).”
Physical conditioning is another recommended substitute for offseason baseball practice.
“We have a very expensive weight room here,” Griesbaum said. “It surprises me to no end why it’s not filled every hour of the day with strength and conditioning classes. Working out and building up strength is one of the most important things for injury prevention.”
Regulations are also important for injury prevention, and many precautionary measures are in place during the season. Pitching limitations are utilized throughout baseball at many levels, Griesbaum said.
“Little League, for instance, has pitch counts. You can’t exceed a certain amount of pitches. In high school it’s innings or outs,” Griesbaum said.
Pitch count restrictions may also be enforced for high school players in the near future, Griesbaum said. Despite all these guidelines, arm injuries in baseball are prone to happen.
“Throwing in baseball is not a natural motion,” Griesbaum said. “It’s not like softball, which is underneath. It’s over top and that’s an unnatural motion.”
South Athletic Trainer Rochelle Mazurek agrees.
“Baseball consists of a lot of arm injuries due to the throwing nature of the sport,” Mazurek said. Rotator cuff strains and rotator cuff tendonitis are among some of the most common.
South baseball players under pain or suspecting injury are first referred to Mazurek, who conducts an evaluation of the player.
“I write out treatment instructions that will help facilitate recovery quickly so the athlete can return to play,” Mazurek said. “I communicate and oversee these instructions and recommendations to the athlete and coach as well as send them home for the parents.”
The cooperation between the athletic trainer and coaches is a vital process at South.
“The coaches at South are great and are very conscientious of preventing injuries as well as encouraging the athletes to be checked out by me prior to having any soreness escalate to an injury.”
As for Mazurek’s physical aid, the technique implemented varies from player to player based on one’s specific scenario.
“Every individual is unique as well as every injury. Some injuries are acute and some are chronic,” Mazurek said. “Treatment is all dependent on the injury.”
Types of care include but are not limited to stretching, icing, bracing, taping, massaging, and therapeutic exercises, Mazurek said.
Every now and then an injury will require further attention.
“If I think the injury is beyond my scope of practice, I will refer the athlete to their primary care physician, our team neuropsychologists, our team orthopedic doctor or the appropriate physician,” Mazurek said.
In the case of a baseball related arm injury, physicians are usually the next step, and an appointment at the physician’s office can result in a trip to the physical therapist.
“A physical therapist often works in a clinical setting and with a more general population, providing treatment for a patient after a physician has deemed it necessary,” Mazurek said. “A physical therapist develops goals for those patients and provides treatment and exercises to reach those goals.”
David Gross, a local physical therapist, has dealt with several high school athletes, practicing the same analyzation and implementation, as described by Mazurek.
“The goal of treatment would be restoring that player’s ability to perform,” Gross said.
However, there are many steps to the process. Gross and other physical therapists begin where Mazurek and other athletic trainers left off.
“We help the injured player by specifically addressing the symptoms they are suffering from,” Gross said. “Swelling, pain, stiffness, and weakness are good examples.”
Physical drills are then repeated once a player reaches a level of comfortability.
“Therapists typically will have (players) perform exercises to restore lost range of motion, improve strength, and if needed, correct abnormalities in their movement patterns that may increase their chances of re-injury,” Gross said.
Both Gross and Mazurek are consistent with Griesbaum in their beliefs of the source of initial arm injury.
“I would attribute (injuries) more to athletes no longer being ‘3 sport’ or multisport athletes,” Mazurek said. “When you play multiple sports, the body is able to develop equally and not one area becomes overworked. You have better balance and better mechanics to prevent injuries from occurring.”
Fitness is also a key factor of Gross’s understanding.
“(Players) taking the time prior to the season to properly condition so the anatomical structures that they will be stressing while playing are able to withstand the burden placed upon them (is important),” Gross said.
Gross also stresses the role of coaches in the health of their players.
“In addition to teaching players the strategy of the game and motivating his or her players, it is a coach’s job to know proper technique, be able recognize poor technique, and help players make the necessary changes to reduce risk of injury,” Gross said.
Respect for a player’s situation is also a major responsibility of coaches, Gross said. Griesbaum is well aware of this obligation.
“We don’t do anything that the doctors do not say is absolutely 100 percent ok,” Griesbaum said. “There’s no coach who’s going to overrule what the doctor says in terms of injuries.”
Gross and Griesbaum are on the same page regarding regulations, too.
“Coaches need to be educated about what is too much in terms of throwing and there needs to be legislation to prevent them from exceeding that,” Griesbaum said.
Gross added to the matter by making a reference to professional baseball.
“There is a reason that MLB (Major League Baseball) tracks a pitch count now,” Gross said. “This was not done back in the day.”
Regardless, some players just never overcome the obstacles of an arm injury.
“Injury incurred at a young age in baseball can come back to haunt the player years later, most commonly in the form of osteoarthritis, a degeneration of the cartilage covering the ends of the bones and located in the joints,” Gross said.
This seems to have been the case for Logan Bauer ’19.
“We think it started a couple of years ago just from having some loose joints and overthrowing,” Bauer said. “This year I missed almost the whole season and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to play again after this.”
Bauer’s arm injury took both a physical and mental toll on him. The severity of his condition had him questioning whether or not the sport is even worth it.
“I do love baseball but it’s constant pain, almost every day,” Bauer said.
Nolan Lucas ’16 has experienced a similar sidelining injury.
“I slightly tore a muscle in my shoulder playing hockey and I didn’t know I tore it,” Lucas said. “Then I started to pitch in baseball and that just really made the tear worse.”
After a failed attempt to wait the pain off, Lucas visited the doctor and had x-rays taken, he said. The doctor came to a temporary conclusion that Nolan’s injury was not anything serious.
“(I) waited another week and got an MRI. I found out I tore my labrum,” Lucas said.
As a pitcher, Lucas feared surgery and immediately opted for physical therapy. Surgery would soon be his only option as the therapy produced poor results, he said.
“I ended up getting surgery at the end of last summer,” Lucas said. “I didn’t play like all junior year because of my shoulder and I’m still recovering from surgery right now.”
Griesbaum does not doubt the ability of his players to make substantial recoveries.
“We still have kids coming back (from surgery) and doing very, very well,” Griesbaum said.
Griesbaum thinks the effects of an injury and medical operation depend on a high schooler’s possible intentions of playing college baseball.
“We have several kids each year that go on to play (college baseball),” Griesbaum said. “An injury can certainly shorten that or delay it.”
Lucas remains optimistic of his chances at a college career.
“I still hope to play college ball,” Lucas said. “(My shoulder’s) looking alright right now so it should be fine in another month or so.”
In regards to the sport as a whole, Griesbaum believes baseball is relatively safe.
“I can really count on one hand the amount of serious injuries I’ve had in all 33 years of being here,” Griesbaum said.
Photo Credit: slgckgc