EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Cory Bosecker considered it luck or lack thereof.
As a freshman, the senior left-hander from Central High School (Evansville, Ind.) fractured his throwing elbow. He says it was due to overuse, trying to play football and baseball at the same time. But he also developed tendinitis in the same elbow prior to his junior year.
Same conclusion: simple overuse. Bosecker was shut down all fall. His mind has not changed.
“Sometimes, you are unlucky,” said Bosecker. “I was doing multiple things with football and baseball. I was an unlucky person at the time. I go out there with the same mindset (regardless of past injuries).”
Bosecker is healthy now going into his final season on the mound. But he could be one of the lucky ones.
There is an underlying fear with any young pitcher who steps onto the mound. Could this be the pitch that results in an injury? According to a recent study, the National Federation of High Schools found the majority of shoulder and elbow injuries were sustained by pitchers, and most injuries were chronic and caused by overuse.
More than 25 percent of athletes with an elbow or shoulder injury missed more than three weeks of the season, and 11 percent of all elbow injuries were season-ending. High school pitchers, who may think they are invincible, understand the numbers.
“You can’t throw all year round and be healthy,” said Castle (Newburgh, Ind.) senior lefty Blake Ciuffetelli. “Not going out and throwing every day is tough. I just want to keep pitching. In the long run, I keep telling myself I need to take time off to be healthy.”
The repetitive throwing motion makes pitchers as prone to injuries as any other player on the field. With modern medicine and proactive training, athletes undergo a number of steps to prevent the risks.
For pitchers, it involves a lot of work away from the mound. Stretching, resistance bands, weight training and following a routine. And ice, lots of ice. Some take several months off in the offseason.
It culminates in throwing a ball progressively further distances: flat ground, on a mound, long toss, simulated game.
“I take about a month or two off around November and December,” said Memorial senior Isaac Housman. “In that time, I just rehab everything and get back to where I want to be. I ice every night and get in band work. Do some rehab with light weights and lot of stretching.”
Ryan Miller saw the problem forming because he went through it himself.
An All-American pitcher for the University of Evansville, Miller blew his elbow out pitching for the Aces. He needed Tommy John Surgery from Dr. James Andrews to put his career back on track.
Selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the ninth round of the 2000 Major League Baseball draft, Miller reached the double-A level and spent six years with the organization. Eventually, his arm gave out and the injuries came back.
Miller now runs Complete Game Baseball and Softball Academy on the West Side. He trains pitchers from a young age to teach them proper mechanics and weight training. Some of his students include Bosecker, Housman and Ciuffetelli.
“I ask some of older guys to be on a strength program,” said Miller. “If they’ll strengthen their arms before they start throwing, they are in a greater position to stay healthy throughout the season. Most guys who are serious about their craft will adhere to a strengthening program for their shoulder.
“I use myself as an example, because I don’t think guys understood mechanics as well as they do today. Maybe nobody saw anything or somebody didn’t think it was worth talking about. I can explain how important all of the variables are.”
Pitchers understand injury prevention should begin at a young age. People hear the horror stories of kids throwing hundreds of pitches or even multiple games per day. The eligibility of a player to pitch in a Little League baseball game is now governed by a tiered pitch count.
Tecumseh senior Steven Molinet stuck strictly to fastballs and changeups during youth ball. He didn’t throw a curve until he was 13 or 14.
“I played with kids who got Tommy John surgery at 13 and it was crazy to hear,” said Molinet. “Luckily, I had the right people around me and learned how to properly throw pitches. My dad knew quite a bit of guys who were big in pitching. I was able to work with them.”
The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association took steps in October of 2016 to help at the varsity and junior varsity level. Depending on the number of pitches thrown, athletes are required to take days off.
Indiana pitch count rules for varsity baseball are as follows: 1-35 pitches = 0 days; 36-60 pitches = 1 day; 61-80 pitches = 2 days; 81-100 pitches = 3 days; 101-120+ pitches = 4 days. If a pitcher reaches the maximum number of pitches (120) during an at‐bat, the pitcher may complete the at‐bat.
Coaching staffs keep track in practice and shut down pitchers who cross a set limit there. It is a joint cooperation between athletes and those they trust to make sure everything goes correctly.
Their future is on the line.
“I normally take off three months and try to stay away from baseball,” said North Posey senior Shane Harris. “It’s a long three months. Every time I see a baseball I want to throw it. I know that I can’t. Even now, my mom is making sure I don’t throw too much. She’s yanking me off the mound if she thinks I’m going too far.”