The last thing Derek Roof was thinking about when he threw the final pitch in the 2011 TranSouth Conference Tournament championship game was how sore his arm was. Instead, teammates exchanged high fives and congratulations after advancing to nationals for the third straight season.
Roof did not get concerned about the soreness in his arm until the ride home that day, when he realized he had pitched 14 innings in just two days, including a 9-inning complete game effort in the championship.
Fast forward to the 2012 season and Roof, junior exercise science major, is redshirted and sidelined by Tommy John surgery, a common elbow surgery among pitchers.
Roof’s surgery was different from others. In many Tommy John surgeries a tendon is taken from the wrist, hamstring or some other part of the patient’s body and used to replace the damaged ligament in the elbow. In Roof’s case, the doctor replaced the ligament with a tendon from the hamstring of a cadaver rather than Roof’s own.
“It is weird to think about,” Roof said. “The doctor did that so I wouldn’t have to rehab my leg, too, if it was taken from (my hamstring).”
Roof said the pain in his elbow started after coming back in the fall from summer ball, but that stretch of 14 innings at the end of last season could have sparked it.
“I don’t say that’s what caused it, but that was the chain of events that could have set it off,” Roof said. “That was my choice. I came back the next day and told coach I could pitch against Martin Methodist in the championship game. If I could go back, I would do it again. You don’t get too many chances like that as a sophomore in college, to pitch in a conference championship game.”
Roof had Tommy John surgery in December after attempting to play in the fall, only to realize that his pain kept him from playing at 100 percent. After an MRI in November revealed a 70 percent tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, Roof could either start a six-month throwing program and hope the problem fixed itself or have the surgery. He decided on the latter and is now two months into the rehabilitation process.
For Tommy John surgery patients, the typical timetable to return to pitching on a mound in game situations is 12 months or longer. Roof is on track with that return schedule.
Despite some misconceptions among young athletes, pitchers do not simply get Tommy John surgery and come back throwing heat immediately. The rehab process calls for daily preparation and dedication.
After having the cast removed Roof started rehab by squeezing Silly Putty to work the muscles in his forearm.
“The whole rehab process takes a while,” Roof said. “I just now completely got all feeling back in my pinky finger. The main thing that took a while was getting my forearm strength back. I got full range of motion back in about five weeks, which is pretty fast, about two weeks earlier than I was scheduled.”
Roof plans to start throwing again in June. He will miss this season, a loss head coach Brent Fronabarger said is a tough one.
“You never want to lose anybody to injury,” Fronabarger said. “You can never have enough pitchers. Roof was a guy who was returning with a lot of experience. He won seven games for us last year and was real big in the conference tournament. That is hard to replace.”
However, Fronabarger said other pitchers, such as Jacob Alexander, freshman English major, and Benjie Fesmire, junior business major, have stepped up to help fill that gap and have pitched well.
Roof plans to be back on the mound next season, which will be the team’s first in the NCAA. He said the hardest part of being injured is not being able to play or help the team.
“I would rather be told I am not good enough to play than I am not (physically able) to play,” Roof said. “It really gets to you and makes you feel like you don’t have a place.”
However, Roof has recently found a way to help the team at home games by a little more than just cheering from the bench. He now calls out names of batters and substitutions from the press box.
“Makes it feel like I am a little more useful,” Roof joked.