Love Of Baseball Got Him Through A Painful Rehab Gloucester Catholic's Mark Michael Is All The Way Back After Arm Surgery.

Posted: March 30, 2000

A little less than two years ago, Gloucester Catholic third baseman Mark Michael wasn't thinking about earning a college baseball scholarship, or about getting frequent phone calls from professional scouts. He didn't think about making all-star teams, or playing in the Carpenter Cup tournament.

All Michael wanted to do was straighten his right arm.

At that time, Michael couldn't handle the simple activity of throwing a baseball. Now, he has regained all of his velocity - and then some.

"It's just great to be playing baseball," said Michael, a first-team all-Tri-County Conference Royal Division and Carpenter Cup selection who batted .407 with five home runs and 40 RBIs last season. "I appreciate being out there, especially after my sophomore year."

In 1998, Michael was catching, pitching and serving as a backup third baseman for the Rams when, in late April, he felt a sharp pain in his right elbow.

One doctor said it was tendinitis. Michael, though, went to Craig Morgan, the doctor for Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling, for a second opinion. Morgan discovered that the growth plate in Michael's right elbow had never fused to the bone. Cartilage set in between them, causing intense pain.

Michael, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 185 pounds, said the injury happened simply because he grew too quickly. He estimated that he grew nearly 10 inches from the beginning of the eighth grade until the spring of his sophomore year.

Michael underwent elbow surgery on June 15, 1998. He didn't resume swinging a bat until that August and didn't throw a ball until that November.

Michael's unyielding work ethic kicked in. After the operation, he couldn't even move his arm into a straight position. Yet he spent hours exercising.

His father, Nick, worked with him in the morning before he left for work, then again at lunchtime and in the evening. The elder Michael would stretch Mark's arm. The pain was at times unbearable.

"People don't realize how much he went through to get back," Nick Michael said. "You could see how much pain he was in, doing those exercises, but he wanted to get back to playing baseball more than anything."

Michael said it took him about a year and a half to get back to 100 percent. Last year, he didn't do any pitching, but this season, he could be a factor, even on his pitching-rich team.

Gloucester Catholic's Rams have six Division I college recruits and a number of potential pro prospects, but Michael doesn't have to take a back seat to anybody. He signed with Old Dominion in November, and might have a decision to make in June if he continues his steady progression and gets drafted by a major-league team.

"My elbow feels great," Michael said. "When I pitched against West Deptford [in a preseason game], it was a good feeling because I hadn't been on a mound in two years."

In his two preseason games, the radar guns consistently registered 88 and 89 m.p.h. Michael even reached 91.

"He is all the way back with his throwing," Gloucester Catholic coach Dennis Barth said. "He probably could have pitched last year because he was throwing the ball 89 miles per hour across the infield, but we didn't want to rush him back."

Barth says a number of pro scouts have called about Michael. The scouts like his mental makeup, in addition to his arm and his bat.

"He probably works as hard as anybody I've ever had," said Barth, who enters his seventh season with a 152-22-1 record. "Mark deserves everything he receives."

Michael followed his high school season by batting .356 with nine home runs and 39 RBIs for Brooklawn, which placed third in the American Legion World Series.

He says he realizes he could have a big decision ahead if he is selected in the major-league draft. After going through so much with his injury, he won't allow the pressure of playing in front of scouts to be a distraction.

"It's an honor to think they are interested, but I really can't think about it much," he said. "All I can do is work hard. Everything else will take care of itself."

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