Q&A: Andy Johnson, College Pitcher who had Tommy John Surgery (Part 2)

Yesterday I posted Part 1 of this Q&A with Andy Johnson, a Bradley University reliever who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. This is part 2. Out of 2. Or 6. No, I’m kidding. Just 2.

Have you been able to reach out to any others who’ve had the surgery and compared your experiences? More generally, are there ways for college players to reach out to major leaguers who’ve shared their experiences? Ballplayers, especially in the past couple of years with the rise of Twitter, seem far more accessible than they used to be — but I’m not sure that actually means anything substantive for the ability to reach out and find someone willing to talk.

The cool thing about the surgery is that it’s kind of a brotherhood. If you have the zipper on the inside of your elbow, there’s a talking point right there. I had a friend at Rutgers, Nathaniel Roe, who had TJS just a couple weeks before me and we texted each other a lot wondering where the other was at and how each other was feeling.

During the summer, I interned with the Peoria Chiefs and they had a Cubs pitcher rehabbing with them, Justin Berg, and I was able to chat with him a few times during the season. He’s a real positive guy and even after a rough outing, he knew he was getting better and that helped me keep my attitude up.

Another close friend and coach of mine is Terry Steinbach. He had played with guys who had Tommy John and he told me that it takes time. It might not all be back after a year but give it 18 months and that’s when I’ll see the zip on the ball and feel normal again.

Twitter has actually got me in contact with Brian Duensing. While he was at Nebraska he went through a similar process and I’ve exchanged a few tweets with him. With only 140 characters it’s hard to get a lot out of him but when I asked him questions, it seemed like he went through a lot of the same stuff.

How have you balanced the surgery and rehab with life as a college student more generally? Do you feel more like a student, or a professional ballplayer– how much of a typical week is spent on baseball-related activities, and has that changed with the surgery, and since you haven’t been pitching, have you been able to have a life closer to that of a typical college student, or is there still a lot of rehab and baseball-related activity?

Being a student-athlete is tough. Going to class everyday with homework and tests can be tough enough but throw in practice, games, workouts and rehab and it can get to be a lot.

In a typical week I probably spend 25 hours or so on baseball activities during the season. We have practice for a few hours and weight lifting two or three times a week for about an hour each. Then my rehab takes about four hours a week with all that I do.

In the athletic training room, I work on forearms, rotator cuff, use the hot tub to get loose and the cold tub to rejuvenate.

With surgery came more time dedicated to baseball but even without injury we’re all able to enjoy the life of a college kid. On weekends, we can go out and have fun with friends and blow off some steam. As much as it seems like a chore sometimes, I couldn’t imagine not being a student-athlete…it’d be too boring.

One last thought:

The surgery process has really changed my mindset on life after baseball. I used to think I’d play pro ball and make enough money to retire and never look back. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Such a small percentage of players are ever able to do that.

I read the book Moneyball during my freshman year and it opened my eyes to the other side of baseball, which I fell in love with. Ever since, I have tried to get my hands on any book or article dealing with the business side of baseball or how to improve the game. I loved The Extra 2% and Baseball Prospectus’s Baseball Between the Numbers and Extra Innings and I read FanGraphs everyday trying to learn something new.

My goal after I am done playing is to get into the baseball operations department for a Major League team. I think that side can be just as fun as playing and it keeps me in the game longer.

For anybody who has had Tommy John or has it in the future, remember it is a great time to learn about the game. It’s when you think you know it all and then it comes crashing down that you are always learning.

Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer, a satirical novel that should make people who didn't go to law school feel good about their life choices. Read more at McSweeney's or elsewhere. He likes e-mail.

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