Trying times often bring out the best in athletes. Virginia Tech pitcher Nic Enright (Richmond, VA) experienced this reality first hand with a fresh perspective following his rehabilitation from an elbow injury.
During his freshman season, Enright was pitching in a game on May 1, 2016 when he felt discomfort in his elbow. Following the game, Enright received the news that no pitcher ever wants to hear: he would have to undergo Tommy John surgery.
“Right after I had the surgery, I gave myself four days to wallow, and then after that I flipped the switch,” Enright said. “Now it’s time to work my tail off for not just these next 12 months, but 13, 14 months to come back and throw again. During the process I just had to take it day by day. It went from not being able to pick up a water bottle with my right hand, to being able to actually do grip pressure things. It made me realize just how much I missed baseball.”
Despite the challenges that awaited him, Enright was surrounded by a solid support system to help him. There were several players on the roster who had been through the same trying circumstance as Enright. They were able to offer advice to him, and just be there when he needed them most.
“I was devastated because I was someone who had never had any kind of surgery,” Enright said. “I had multiple guys on the team from Packy Naughton to Ryan Lauria to Andrew McDonald or Kit Scheetz who had all had the surgery before. As soon as I found out, they were all right there telling me it’s going to be okay, this is what you’re going to feel, this is what you’re going to do.
“Words can’t describe how valuable those people were to me and my recovery. There were bad days throughout the process, whether that was during the rehab and you’re an hour and a half in and you’re exhausted. You know you can’t skip a rep in June for when you come back next year because it adds up. During the process of throwing, you have days where you feel like you tore it again. I’m ready to hop on the phone and tell my parents to line up another surgery, but it’s just part of the process. It’s just that scar tissue breaking after it’s been locked up for so long. Just being able to rely on my family and the people who had the surgery before and the coaching staff always having support of me. You just can’t put all of that into one word.”
Following the surgery, Enright was forced to redshirt and sit out the entire 2017 season. He initially thought he could return, but when looking at the numbers, he saw a much higher rate of success and long-term health for those players who take the rehab slowly and don’t rush back.
As a result, Enright experienced the game from a new perspective. After playing baseball year after year, he was given the opportunity to sit back and view the game from more of a mental approach.
“One of the things I did learn was that baseball is what I did, but it’s not who I was,” Enright said. “I learned who Nic Enright the person was more than just Nic Enright the baseball player. That’s what I had been for the last five or six years when it was just always that. At the same time, it did make me appreciate that much more when I’ve been able to come back and play. I don’t take any day for granted because you never know which game might be another game where you get an injury and it could be your last.
“Something I tried to tell myself is even though I only played my freshman year, I feel like I have two years of experience under my belt. I feel like I’m a much more mature and ready pitcher now than I was my freshman year. I won’t say that I know everything, but I feel like certain situations I’m much more prepared for now, going through it and watching games last year, than I was two years before.”
Enright eventually finished the grueling rehabilitation that was set before him, and he was awarded the chance to play for the Baltimore Redbirds in the Cal Ripken League this summer. For the first time in over 13 months, Enright toed the rubber and fired 3.0 innings, giving up one run and striking out four batters.
“It was amazing,” Enright said. “Just seeing in my rearview mirror the countless hours of work and pain and going through all of it. To have my family there as well and being able to throw a pitch off the mound again in a real game. You just can’t put the emotions that you’re feeling into words. For me it’s doing what I love. This summer was basically everything I wanted it to be.”
The right-handed hurler started the summer league strong, giving up just two runs over his first 13.2 innings pitched. However, Enright hit a rough patch in the middle of the season. Over his next two starts, he allowed nine runs in 3.2 innings pitched. It may have seemed like all of Enright’s tough times were behind him, but he was faced with a reality check over this stretch, but it was a reality check that would be answered with a stellar performance in the Cal Ripken League All-Star Game.
“I looked myself in the mirror and said ‘Is this the pitcher I’m going to be post-surgery?’” said Enright. “Or am I going to be the same or better than I was before?’ I came in the All-Star game and struck out the side. That was my ‘I’m back and this is who I am and who I’m going to be moving forward.’ The feeling that I had then was what I worked hours and hours for.”
Players often come back from Tommy John surgery stronger than they were before the injury. They are required to put an emphasis on core strength training and religiously take care of their arms during this time. Enright explains how he reaped these rewards through his own training.
“I know my shoulder has never felt stronger in my baseball career,” Enright said. “Before this surgery, I never really had any issues and because of that I never did any kind of shoulder rehab other than the status quo for a regular baseball player. Since I’ve had this surgery, the amount of shoulder work and rehabilitation work that I do is triple, maybe even four times the amount I would ever do before. Once I get a little bit of a rest period after this fall and come back in the spring, I don’t see why I won’t come back stronger.”
Now with the Hokies’ season firmly on his mind, Enright has a renewed mindset and a stronger arm. He’ll have a chance to compete for a starting spot in the rotation under first year head coach John Szefc.