It’s been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait for one Northern Kentucky University pitcher.
While on the team’s spring break trip to San Diego, Calif., fifth-year senior Shane Gordon picked up his first collegiate win March 9.
What made the victory even sweeter was that it was against one of the best offensive teams in the country in Cal-Poly at Pomona.
“It was one of the most rewarding wins of my career,” said Gordon. “I’ve been through so much in the past few years, I really haven’t had a lot of chances to get out on the mound and prove myself.”
Gordon has suffered through an injury-plagued career in his tenure at NKU. After coming to Highland Heights as a shortstop, Gordon was moved to the pitching staff his sophomore year.
He threw well for the team in his only start that season, striking out three batters in only two and two-thirds innings, but before he finished the third inning he heard a loud “pop” in his right elbow.
“I was really excited about making it into the starting rotation as a sophomore, and it was a huge letdown for me to get hurt in my first start of the year,” said Gordon.
Gordon tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery to continue pitching.
“Tommy John is a surgical replacement of the torn ligament with a tendon from the wrist, knee or ankle,” said Timothy Kremchek, Cincinnati Reds team physician. “The new tendon is then looped through the holes that are drilled into the bone.”
“Pitching is very difficult with this injury,” Kremchek added. “Your command will be off, your stuff is not as crisp and velocity is hard to maintain.”
Reconstructive elbow surgery requires months of intensive and painful physical therapy.
“The first goal of physical therapy is to get a full range of motion back,” said Lori Berick, an orthopedic physical therapist at Beacon Orthopedics. “After you can extend your arm it takes about four and a half months of intense physical therapy, then 18 weeks of an interval throwing program.”
“Usually a pitcher is back to original form in about a year and a half, but it really depends on how the individual reacts to the strengthening program,” Berick said.
After allowing the proper recovery time to heal, Gordon began to focus on his comeback. He was forced to take a medical red-shirt after he was injured in his sophomore season, which set him back both physically and mentally.
“It was really frustrating sitting out that year,” he said. “We had a really good team that year, but our weakness was pitching. It’s unfortunate because I think I could have really made an impact and helped out the team.”
After sitting out for two full seasons, Gordon was once again prepared to contribute to the team’s success in the 2004 season.
NKU had one of their best seasons in school history that year, but Gordon admittedly had little to do with the team’s league championship and NCAA Regional birth.
Gordon’s injury hampered his abilities throughout the season. Not being able to pitch at 100 percent, combined with what may have been the Norse’s most talented pitching staffs ever, prevented Gordon from getting the playing time he needed to gain his arm strength back.
This season, NKU is predicted to defend their GLVC title with their strength being a lights-out pitching staff, and Gordon expects to be a major part of that.
“I think I can help the team the most coming out of the bullpen,” Gordon said. “We have great starters this year, and I just want to fill my role which will most likely be in relief.”
Gordon made good on his words in his first outing of the year. Head Coach Todd Asalon put Gordon into the game not knowing what to expect out of his veteran pitcher.
“We were just hoping for the best,” Asalon said. “Shane was a pretty good pitcher before the operation. I just told him to throw strikes, have good command and do his best.”
Gordon not only met, but exceeded his coach’s requests by throwing three innings, giving up only one hit and no runs. The worst part of Gordon’s performance was the one walk he gave up, but he made up for it with a strikeout in the sixth inning.
“He definitely earned himself another opportunity,” Asalon said. “He threw all of his pitches for strikes and kept a real good team off balance.”
Cal-Poly Pomona is an annual offensive juggernaut, a trait associated with many schools on the West Coast. The Bronco’s are currently hitting a whopping .292 as a team. That’s close to every third hitter getting a hit.
The Norse came back from an 8-3 deficit to win that game, with the help of a three-run home run by Jim Volpe in the ninth inning.
“That game was awesome,” Gordon said. “It really felt great to be a part of that one.”
Gordon has gained a lot of savvy and confidence over the years as a ballplayer, and is only hoping for bigger and better things for the team in the future.
“My family hasn’t seen me pitch in almost three years,” he said. “It would be a dream come true to get the chance to help the team win a post-season game in front of my parents.”