After pitching some of the best baseball in his career and winning back-to-back Big Ten pitcher of the week awards last March, Kyle Hart suffered a major setback in his baseball career.
After experiencing discomfort in his forearm, it was determined Hart tore his ulnar collateral ligament and had to have Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow.
Yesterday marked five months since Hart underwent the procedure, and the Indiana Daily Student sat down with Hart to see how his recovery process has been going.
Q What kind of pain did you initially feel when you first injured your arm against Ohio State?
A It was really weird. It’s kinda like getting punched.
It was in the fourth inning with two outs, the third batter of the inning. I threw the first pitch to him and I threw the ball just like normal, got the ball back from (then junior catcher Kyle) Schwarber, and I started walking back to the mound.
Then I started feeling a shooting pain going down my arm, and it really wasn’t even that intense. And I threw another pitch, and it was the same thing. It was like a three or four-second delay.
And that’s honestly what worried me — the awkwardness of the injury. It was a cold day, and that was the second or third cold game I’d thrown in a row. I was just thinking, ‘You’ve felt things like this before.’ And I can honestly say the pain was in my forearm, not my elbow.
I told my coaching staff what happened between the fourth and the fifth inning. I almost didn’t tell them.
And had I known I tore my UCL, I would have just kept my mouth shut. I would have finished the game and just said something after, because I knew my season was over.
I honestly came so close to not saying something. But I did and came out after warming up in the fifth inning.
Everybody kept on telling me, ‘It’s a really good day to pull a muscle,’ because it was like 45 degrees or something.
A few weeks later I got the severity of it.
Q Did you know your season was over right away?
A No, not at all. I honestly thought it was a flexural tendon or something. I had seen video and heard firsthand stories that had also torn their UCL and it was like, ‘Yeah I couldn’t throw a ball anymore. I couldn’t even throw a sock.’
But I was throwing normal pitches so I was like, ‘Am I hurt? Am I not hurt?’ And then I found out I completely ruptured it off the bone.
And that’s not what it felt like at all.
Q What was your reaction when you found out you had to have Tommy John surgery?
A Honestly, and this is gonna sound cheesy, but I was like ‘This sucks’ because one, we hadn’t started the season that well, but we had just swept Ohio State, and we were starting to roll.
And I was pitching well, and I was starting to contribute. When I found out I had to have my surgery, I felt bad for my teammates. I knew that this would be a good season, and I knew I was going to be a part of it.
I know that’s selfish to say, but I knew I was going to be able to help. It had been DeNato, Slegers, and last year it was Christian and Kelzer and all those guys.
And I just felt that I was letting them down, like maybe I hadn’t done enough in the training room and weight room, and maybe I wasn’t taking good enough care of my body that that shouldn’t have happened.
Once I got past that hurdle, I didn’t even know the redshirt was an option so I was like, ‘Wow, I gotta knock this degree out.’
It became a serious reality that I was gonna have to get a job. I was never gonna be a contributor again, so what was gonna happen?
I think I took it really well, mostly because I came in from the mindset that I was prepared for the worst. Even though in my heart of hearts I thought it was only a slight injury.
So once you accept the fact that you’re not gonna pitch for a long time, then you can get to work.
You have to realize you’re not gonna pitch for 10 months. It really didn’t hit me ’til I was sitting in the dugout against Stanford, and there’s two lefties up and we needed two outs.
It’s like, why am I sitting here in a sling?
Q So were you granted a redshirt for last year?
A I was. And when I found that out, I was so happy. Just because I knew that feeling of not contributing — that was gone.
I wasn’t able to last year, but now I’m going to be able to contribute and help out the next couple years.
I think the limitations were there were so many appearances you could have made and there was a deadline.
And I fit both criteria. I hadn’t thrown enough appearances, and it was like a week before the deadline of the redshirt.
So I have two more years, athletically, to play for IU.
Q During your surgery, were you conscious?
A No, they knocked me out. I don’t remember anything.
I remember waking up and having a really pretty nurse. And I’m still trying to find her. (I’m) keeping a lookout.
Maybe I was just really drowsy, but she was really just an angel.
Q What was the recovery process like, not being able to use your arm and all?
A I got really lucky. I’m right-handed on most things. I can eat and write and even throw right-handed.
It was really just that first week where there was substantial pain and discomfort that was trouble.
After that it was just listening to the doctors who had done this before. You know, my surgery was a very normal one.
So it really wasn’t that bad of a struggle. It was in the middle of the summer, so I didn’t have to worry about class.
I did have it during the end of school, but my teachers were extremely understanding. Once I got home and my mom was taking care of me, I was able to drive myself around after a couple weeks. It really wasn’t that big of a deal.
It’s not like an ACL where you’re debilitated for the first couple months.
Q Where are you in your recovery process? When are you getting back on the field?
A Well today is a funny day you showed up. It’s five months from today that I had my surgery.
So at five months, I’m about a month deep into a throwing program. It’s slow. It’s slow as just the progression of the distances, the amount of throws, how hard you can throw it, etc.
From what I’ve been told, Feb. 15, or whenever our first game is, it’s gonna be a stretch to be out there. I think Coach Lemonis and Coach Bunn agree that they want me healthy for May, not necessarily for the first game.
But the goal is to ease me back into it. If I can throw out of the bullpen March 1 or maybe start a game in April, it’s that kind of thing. I’m not going to come right in and throw 100 pitches.
I’ll start in the bullpen and maybe get lefties out or something at a 15- or 20-pitch limit.
But based on how it’s going now, I feel like I can get on the mound right now and throw 70 or 80 miles an hour at five months. And they’re saying I’m still five or six months away.
And that’s kind of the part where I’m like, ‘What the hell am I gonna do for the next six months?’ I feel 90 percent ready right now. I feel like November I should be ready to go.
But that’s the mental hurdle I was talking about — overcoming things, overcoming the intensity of the program.
Even at the eight or nine month stage of the process, still having the ability to work hard in the weight room, so when they say March 1 or whenever, I’m completely ready to go.
That’s the timetable. I wish it was Jan. 1 and I had a couple months before the season, but it’s gonna be crunch time when January or February hit.
Q On Aug. 15, you tweeted that you threw a baseball for the first time. What was that like?
A That was at a Cincinnati complex called Beacon. It’s a really good rehab facility. They do all the Cincinnati Reds players there.
I walked in one day for my usual Friday therapy, and my therapist flipped me a ball.
Then he said, ‘Did you bring your glove?’
And I always have my glove in my truck, so I said, ‘Yeah, why?’
And he said, ‘Well you’re throwing today.’
I thought I was gonna throw a beanie bag or something, but he said I was throwing 40 feet.
I rushed through my rehab real quick and went out there to throw. It was six minutes of throwing at 35 or 40 feet.
I was just like lobbing it like I was a girl, but I remember sweating after it because I was so nervous and I thought, ‘Man that was super awesome.’
I wanted to tweet something more exciting than that, but it was the only thing I could think of.
Q I know you’re a fan of Skyline Chili. How much did that help you through this whole process?
A Oh my God. Honestly, when I had my surgery, that’s like all I was eating. My mom was like, ‘Should I cook? Should I cook?’
But I said, ‘No, you should probably just go get coneys.’ And then my brother came into town before my surgery and we had a huge plate of them.
Every time, the manager looks over at us because the waitress says ‘I need 15 coneys at table five.’ And then he looks over and its two people thinking, ‘What the hell is going on over there?’
But Skyline, man, I want to cut a deal with them. I would give them so much publicity and make them so much money.
But the NCAA wouldn’t have that.