While pitching for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League last summer, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point pitcher Cam Seidl felt something pop in his arm.
The right-hander continued to pitch the rest of the summer for the Rafters, before he found out that he tore the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his throwing elbow, and had to undergo Tommy John surgery.
Seidl sat out what was to be his senior season for the Pointers last spring, as UWSP went on to advance to the NCAA Division III World Series in his hometown of Appleton.
This summer, Seidl spent the past couple of months as the pitching coach for the Stevens Point Sixers American Legion Baseball team, while he continued to rehab from what was once considered to be a career-ending injury for pitchers.
“I’ll be 100 percent in the fall, and I just can’t wait to get back out there,” said Seidl. “It’s tough sitting around all of the time, and I’m more than ready to get back out there.”
After seeing limited action for UWSP as a freshman in 2010 (0-1, 13.50 ERA in 10 innings pitched) and as a sophomore in 2011 (1-1, 12.15 ERA in 13.1 innings pitched), Seidl had a breakthrough year as a junior.
After spending the summer of 2011 as the pitching coach for the Sixers and then pitching for the Rafters in the final month of their season, Seidl went 5-3 with a 1.67 ERA and three saves in 75 and 1/3 innings pitched during his junior season for the Pointers in 2012.
He also threw six complete games in his 10 starts, and was named First Team All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) and the 2012 WIAC Pitcher of the Year.
“A lot of that had to do with mental maturity, and a lot of that came from our coaches,” said Seidl of his improvement. “They had enough of me being immature out there, and I decided to make some big life changes.
“The talent was always there, but it was just controlling everything, and it was all mental,” said Seidl.
Last summer he signed with the Rafters to play a full season in the Northwoods League, a wooden-bat summer baseball league that features some of the top college players in the country.
On a road trip in Battle Creek, Mich., in late-June, Seidl said he felt a tear when he was pitching.
“I threw a ball and it bounced in there and I felt a pop, and my whole hand went numb,” said Seidl. “But I stuck it out for the rest of the summer and I honored my commitment to play the summer.”
He went on to finish the season with a 0-4 record and 6.42 ERA in 49 innings pitched for the Rafters, before he discovered that he tore the UCL in his elbow.
Seidl had Tommy John surgery, where the UCL is replaced with a ligament taken from another part of the body, performed by the world-renowned Dr. James Andrews in Florida last November, and then began the rehab process, which typically takes a year to 18 months for pitchers.
“There was six weeks or so that I couldn’t really do much, except sit up there on a bicycle and pedal away,” said Seidl. “One-hundred miles a week was my goal.”
After the surgery, Seidl rehabbed two or three times a week at UWSP, and said that over Christmas break he was in the training room five or six times a week doing his rehab, which includes plyometrics, shoulder and forearm work, and strengthening all of the muscles around the ligament.
The injury has long been considered career threatening for pitchers, but over time the success rate of a full recovery has increased to an estimated 85 to 92 percent, while some have even come back better than before.
Former UWSP All-American Jordan Zimmermann, a second-round pick by the Washington Nationals in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft, underwent the surgery in 2009 and has since thrived, as he was named to the Major League All-Star Game this summer.
“It was a lot of work,” said Seidl of the rehab. “A lot of people don’t know why a lot of pitchers come back stronger than they did before, and it’s because of all of the extra work that you’re doing in there, that you normally wouldn’t do.
“My arm’s definitely feeling stronger than it ever has,” said Seidl.
The injury kept him out for what was to be his senior season last spring, as he wasn’t able to begin light throwing workouts until February.
UWSP went on to win the WIAC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament, where it won the Midwest Regional Title to earn a trip to the NCAA Division III World Series in Seidl’s hometown of Appleton.
Seidl watched from the dugout as the Pointers went 2-2 at the World Series, and ended up one win away from advancing to the National Championship Game.
“Our guys played their hearts out all year, and it was so much fun,” said Seidl of the World Series run. “But at times it was really tough, just sitting there and watching, knowing that I wanted to take the ball.
“Toward the end of the year, I was begging to get that ball back and just play,” said Seidl. “I knew it would have been a stupid way to end my career, but it was just that drive to be out on the field.”
While continuing to rehab after the Pointers’ season was over, Seidl returned to serve as the pitching coach this summer for the Sixers, who recently had their season come to an end.
“It was really fun and I love working with the kids,” said Seidl. “I love passing knowledge that I’ve learned throughout my years playing baseball on to these kids.
“And it definitely helps out (as a pitcher), because you know you can’t go out there and play, so you’re putting yourself in the other team’s shoes and trying to think about what they’re trying to do in a situation,” said Seidl. “So that helps you out, knowing how to beat what they’re trying to do.”
He estimated that at this point he’s throwing at about 75 percent off the mound, and is expecting to be back to full-strength later in the fall.
Seidl said that UWSP baseball head coach Pat Bloom has relayed a few messages to him from Zimmermann, while he thanked the UWSP training staff, including Greg Marty and Alicia Champagne, for doing an excellent job with his rehab.
He also said that the UWSP coaching staff and his teammates have been really supportive during the process, while he’s looking forward to returning for his senior season with the Pointers in the spring.
“I just can’t wait to get out there,” said Seidl. “I’ve got big expectations for our team, and personally, I’m just hoping I can duplicate what I did and hopefully that turns into more wins for our team.
“I’d love to get back (to the World Series) and go even further,” said Seidl. “And bring home a National Championship for us.”