SPRINGFIELD, Mo — “My parents told me I picked up a baseball when I was 2 years old, and started chucking it,” said Nick Petree.
“My dad would always joke that I could get to college and baseball could pay with scholarships,” said Petree. “I always joked back and said that I didn’t want to stop there.”
After being named Collegiate Baseball’s 2012 National Player of the Year for Missouri State, Nick Petree accomplished his dream: Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I was very excited that I got the opportunity to continue playing baseball,” said Petree.
At 25, he had his whole career ahead of him. That career ended after the 2015 season, when doctors told him the news.
“I got an MRI. That one was kind of drawn out. It’s heart breaking to hear that information, but injuries happen,” said Petree.
Petree had torn his UCL, the ulnar collateral ligament, in his right arm…. again. His major league baseball playing days, were over.
“It makes you realize that you cant take any day for granted and that it could end at any moment,” said Petree.
Petree’s diagnosis is becoming more and more of a reality for baseball players of all ages, across the nation. Dr. Chris Miller is an orthopedic surgeon at Cox Health, and studied under Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered the surgery back in 1974.
“Dr. Jobe always told me that pitchers have a finite number of pitches until that ligament tears,” said Miller. “With these kids being so good at a youngg age, being pitched and over-pitched, that ligament fails.”
In the last 20 years, Tommy John surgery, has increased in high school athletes over 30% according to the American Sports Medicine Institute.
A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, took it a step further, and noted that children as young as 13 years old are undergoing the surgery.
Dr. Neeru Jayanthi leads the Tennis Medicine Program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and is regarded as one of the leading experts in youth sports injuries.
“In my mind, training relateable injuries are almost all preventable. If you’re doing a specific excess volume and your training load is more than you need to be successful, you get hurt,” said Dr. Neeru Jayanthi.
In 2015, Jayanthi released findings regarding overuse injuries, such as elbow and shoulder injuries in baseball players. Over 1,200 athletes were recruited, and the study found a direct link between the age of the athlete, and the number of hours spent in organized sports.
Athletes, that play more hours per week than their age in years, were at an increased risk for a serious overuse injury.
These findings corresponded with a previous 10-year study done by Jayanthi, finding that baseball pitchers that threw more than 100 innings per year, were 3.5 times more likely to be injured.
In another study published by the American Sports Medicine Institute, players that pitched more than 8 months out of the year were 5 times more at risk. The study also found that pitching despite arm fatigue, increased their injury chances by 36 times.
“It’s kind of like smoking. No one stops smoking unless your doctor asks you every single time you come visit,” said Jayanthi.
In 2014, 31 major leaguers underwent Tommy John surgery, and Major League Baseball has taken steps to protect America’s Pastime.
The MLB, alongside USA Baseball, provide free resources for youth athletes, outlined in their Pitch Smart Program. They provide detailed throwing programs, and essentials for post-pitching recovery.
“If you’re in the offseason, just spend some time playing catch with your dad,” said Dr. Jason Martinez.
Dr Jason Martinez is the owner of NXT Level Chiropractic in Springfield.
“If you want to get stronger, just lift more often. If you want to get better at throwing, throw more often. It’s true in a way, but recovery is more important. If you don’t recover, you aren’t going to perform well. The rehabilitation and recovery is just as important, if not more important, than the sport itself,” said Martinez.
This year, Nick Petree has found his way from the pitching mound, to the dugout, as an Assistant Coach for the Missouri State Bears.
With his position, he hopes to instill these values, for the next generation of Major League Players.
“I just try to pass on everything that I have learned and didn’t realize at the time. Play every day like it’s your last,” said Petree.