Tommy John surgery not as bad as it used to be

Curve pitcher Tyler Sample had Tommy John surgery when he was just 15 years old, which sounds crazy, but only if you still consider the procedure to be very dangerous and career threatening.

Which it’s not anymore.

“No one wants to have surgery, but Tommy John is a very high success rate,” said Curve reliever Ryan Beckman, who had the surgery in June of 2012.

News that prized prospect Jameson Taillon needs Tommy John surgery broke just before the start of the Curve game Sunday, so most of the players were unaware of it until after the game. Altoona pitcher Nick Kingham, one of Taillon’s good friends, was one of the few who already knew about it.

“We’ve already talked,” Kingham said. “I knew about it a couple days ago. But he’s going to be all right, he’s going to come back and he’ll be the same old Jamo.”

Maybe even better.

One of the benefits of Tommy John surgery is that a ligament that has been overused, perhaps for some time, gets replaced by a brand new ligament. Many pitchers come back stronger and throwing harder after taking off for about a year.

“It’s terrible what happened,” Kingham said. “But he’s going to come back from it, he’s going to be stronger from it, and I wish him nothing but the best.”

Kingham also said Taillon “was positive about it, looking forward to getting it done and kind of just correcting it and starting over.”

Taillon pitched for the Curve last year and has many friends and former teammates on this year’s club. Manager Carlos Garcia was disappointed to hear the news.

“Oh man, don’t tell me that,” he said when it was brought to his attention. “Holy cow.”

Garcia went on to add, “He’s a young kid with a great future in this game,” and the manager knows that having Tommy John surgery at this point won’t necessarily change that.

One of the most unusual Tommy John stories comes from Sample, whose right elbow was already so messed up by the age of 15 that he needed his ulnar collateral ligament replaced.

“When they opened me up, they said it was a long time coming,” Sample said. “[The ligament] was frayed. So it definitely didn’t happen on one pitch. I remember throwing one pitch and having a lot more soreness than what I had been.”

That has to be about as young as it gets to have the procedure done.

“I thought my baseball career was over at that point,” Sample said. “My parents asked me if I wanted to have it done, and I was in love with baseball so I had it done. I’m glad I did.”

Now 24, Sample is a good example that having the surgery – even at such a young age – won’t ruin professional dreams.

“It had already been around for a while,” he said of the once-dreaded surgery, “so there was no question of me playing again. Guys come back stronger just because of the rehab process. But there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to come back.”

It was an unusual step, though, for such a young ballplayer to take having that surgery.

“It was definitely a reality check and kind of steered me toward that this is what I wanted to do because it’s a big commitment,” Sample said.

Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of the day Beckman hurt his elbow during his first appearance of the 2012 season for the Curve. He faced only three batters before getting hurt, and after trying to rehab for two months, he underwent Tommy John surgery that June.

“It was disappointing for me, and I’m sure it is for Taillon because he’s a competitor,” Beckman said Sunday.

Beckman had his recovery slowed by a hamstring injury last season, but he made it back to the mound by early June with Single-A Bradenton. He missed pretty much exactly a year of time, was called up to the Curve in mid-July and finished the season in Double-A.

While he felt good last year, Beckman said the offseason rest made a big difference.

“This year I feel 110 percent better than I did last year, and last year I felt good,” he said.

That’s pretty much what Taillon can expect in his recovery. As long as everything goes well, he could be ready to return to the mound at the start of next season. The Pirates might even give him some time back with the Curve early on in the rehab process.

“He was positive,” Kingham said of Taillon’s attitude. “You can only look at it in a positive way. If you look at it in the negative, you’re just going to get down and it’s going to be a long 12 months.”