It’s said that lightning never strikes the same place twice. Luke Scherzer, a pitcher on Virginia Tech’s baseball team, would disagree.
Scherzer has sat out the previous two seasons after injuring his right elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery two years in a row.
The redshirt senior had the first surgery in March of 2016 after the wear and tear of his freshman and sophomore years eventually took its toll. As a freshman, Scherzer appeared in 25 games, the second-most games of any Hokie pitcher. As a sophomore, he appeared in 17 Atlantic Coast Conference games, the second-most of any pitcher in the ACC.
Scherzer recovered from the surgery, and he returned to the team as a captain for his redshirt junior season in 2017. However, the lightning struck his elbow again. The new tendon snapped after pitching in a scrimmage one week before the season started. Scherzer was once again faced with the harsh reality that he needed revision surgery on his ulnar collateral ligament.
“It’s just how you handle adversity,” said Scherzer. “You get back up and go. You think, ‘Hey, I got knocked down twice. Good. I have to come back from it.’ It’s only going to make you stronger. That’s the way I took it.”
Over these past two years, Scherzer has spent long hours day and night in the weight room in order to rehab from the two surgeries. The work ethic and perseverance that he’s shown has set him on a course of recovery to return this year in his redshirt-senior season.
“We rehabbed about three or four times a week,” said Scherzer. “Upper body work, flexibility, range of motion stuff. Then you work out legs and core another four times a week. It’s always a grind, and if you want to get better you have to do more. That’s the way I see it. It made it a little easier to work out. I had more motivation because I knew I wasn’t good enough. I knew I wasn’t healthy and had to get better. You find yourself in a lull when you’re being successful. You kind of slow yourself down from working too hard. You take a step back and say ‘I have to get right back in it.’”
Scherzer also found himself surrounded by a support system that kept him going in the midst of the countless months needed to rehab and recover from the two surgeries. It was during this time that Scherzer called his parents “the number one supporters.”
“My family and friends were always there for me,” said Scherzer. “I like to think that I surround myself with people who are the best people that I know. Everybody still pushes me and motivates me to this day.”
Tommy John surgery is a procedure that several Virginia Tech pitchers have dealt with. In fact, redshirt-sophomore Nic Enright sat out this past season with Scherzer while they both recovered from the elbow reconstruction surgery. Enright discussed how having others who have gone through the same ordeal helped his own recovery process.
“It’s almost like a fraternity,” said Enright. “It’s just a mutual respect between all of those guys [who have had the surgery]. Anyone who’s ever thrown a pitch and has come back from Tommy John [surgery] like Luke and I are trying to do, they know just how much work that person put in for that one pitch.”
After the second surgery, the Powhatan, Virginia native could have easily hung up his jersey, placed his cleats in a closet and given up on a potential baseball career. Instead, Scherzer took a more optimistic viewpoint and focused on what was ahead, not what was in the past.
“I knew it was a no-brainer for me,” said Scherzer. “I definitely wanted to continue to play. I definitely wanted to give it another shot.
“I wouldn’t call myself special or anything like that. I just want to play this game. It’s my dream. I have another chance to play and another chance to pitch so I’m going to take it.”
Still, the time over the past two years wasn’t a completely lost cause. Scherzer can look back now and remember the jokes that he shared with teammates in the dugout. He remembers the struggles of trying to shower and extend his arm initially after the surgeries. He thinks back and laughs at the times where he would twitch his arm quickly and be filled with pain, forgetting that his elbow was supposed to stay at a certain angle.
It was also during this time that Scherzer reflected on himself as a person and not just a baseball player.
“You grow up in that time,” said Scherzer. “You learn about yourself and learn who you are. It’s definitely eye-opening when you’re faced with not being able to play baseball again for the rest of your life.”
Right now, Scherzer is eight months in from his last surgery back in February 2017. He’s begun throwing for the first time within the past week and is limited to tossing from 45 feet at the moment. Once the season starts in February, Scherzer will be slated to take the mound for the first time in live game action since May 19, 2015.
It’s been a grind for Scherzer, and it’s a grind that will never end. Every time he pitches a baseball, he can look at the lingering scar on the inside of his right elbow and be reminded of all the hard work and sacrifice that it took to get to that moment.