AURORA, Ore.– On July 28, 2016, it was like any other day pitching for Andy Schmitz as his North Marion teammates, playing a part of the North Willamette Valley Single-A American Legion team.
Under the hot sun in Central Point, Oregon at Crater High School’s Anhorn Field, his squad was leading a familiar foe in the Santiam Senators 5-0 entering the bottom of the third inning and every was feeling fine up to this particular inning.
Then, something changed however during the bottom of that third inning, and not for the best.
During a three-run rally by the Senators, Schmitz’ threw a off-speed pitch to a Senator batter and a moment later, Coach Tucker Brack was calling time and was at his side.
“I was feeling, I was pitching well, it all felt good and then I threw a off-speed pitch and it just happened,” described Schmitz on that day, that pitch. “I mean I knew something was wrong, I mean it popped. Tucker could hear it from the dugout, he came out and I threw a practice pitch.
“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know how bad it was until I went to the doctor and got scans and stuff.”
Having battling tendinitis-like symptoms for most of the summer, thoughts were initially were that as he was relived by Trevor Ensign, who helped put the finishing touches on a 15-5 victory over Santiam to stay alive in the Single-A Playoffs for at least another day.
“I thought at first…I had some tendinitis or something in my elbow all summer so I thought it’d be flaring up or something but then I threw that practice pitch and I thought, ‘uh, something maybe seriously be wrong’,” said Schmitz.
He went into the doctors to get it checked out, to see why there was a ‘pop’, the diagnosis wasn’t good.
He torn a ligament in his throwing elbow on the off-speed pitch in the game and would need Tommy John surgery to repair the Ulnar Collateral Ligament or the UCL. Timetable for the injury could take a year, maybe two-years depending on healing and the sport that the athlete plays.
“It was, ‘oh snap, what do I do now?”, said Schmitz. “So I went and talked to some doctors and start researching it and researching recovery in advance before the day I found out how I was going to plan my recovery, laid it all out.
“I mean I had good doctors and therapist around me to help me out and my team, my coaches, my family, everybody.”
Surgery wasn’t until September of 2016, and with the time-frame of a year-or-so for recovery, it meant that Schmitz would miss his junior year of football and basketball for North Marion.
With the competitor that Schmitz is, you knew it hurt being on the sidelines not being able to help his North Marion Huskie teammates on the Field of Battle as he recovered and rehabbed from surgery.
But what came from not being on the field, was an opportunity to see the sports he love from another angle, helping the coaches in football and basketball and seeing the two sports from different angles than what he was used to.
“It was hard to watch the guys compete on not being on the floor, out on the field with them,” said Schmitz. “But it was different because I got to see a new perspective, rather than being on the court or on the field that I’ve never seen before, so I was able to learn a lot and I just tried to contribute in anyway that I could to the baseball team, to the basketball team and the football team.”
Rehabbing was hard, but with his work ethic Schmitz’ worked harder trying to make it back to the field of play before the end of his junior season.
“It was a lot of work,” laughed Schmitz. “A lot of days. I’m 300 days in about, it’s been a long process for sure.”
Slowly, he was steadily getting healthier and healthier and to even Schmitz’ surprise, by a week-before the first game of the Spring Season versus Astoria, he was cleared to hit and was the Huskies designated hitter (DH), but not to resume his defensive duties which was bittersweet for Schmitz to a point.
“They cleared me to hit left-handed so months in advance I was trying to, actually hit left handed, and then the week before the first game, they cleared me to hit right-handed in a game,” said Schmitz on the progress of his recovery and being able to play. “I’ve already been taking swings and stuff but not off live pitching.
“But I got some live pitching out here and I started swinging it felt good. So it was good to be able to hit and I mean obviously I would’ve loved to play defense and stuff like that during the spring season, but hitting was fine because it was more than I was expected to do anyway.”
In the season opener versus the Fishermen, Schmitz went 4-for-4 as North Marion finished 18-8, 14-4 overall in the Oregon West Conference before losing to Banks 10-4 in the Opening Round of the 4A Playoffs on May 24.
Not even 12 days after the Spring Season ended, something pretty awesome happened for Schmitz in the Single-A Opener versus the Triple-A Withnell Dodgers:
He played defense. Second Base.
48 days before the one-year anniversary of the injury that could have ended his sporting career, Andy Schmitz was healthy enough to line-up on both sides of the baseball for the first time since that hot summer day in Central Point against the Santiam Senators.
“I had the jitters going through me, I mean I was excited, I was nervous,” said Schmitz with a giant grin on his face. “I mean it was a great feeling to be out there and be back on the field with my guys and things like that. It was awesome.”
The surgical repaired ligament in his arm held strong through the demands that Schmitz put it through.
Hitting, throwing, fielding. It looked as new as it could be as he played as confidence built within Schmitz as he played.
“It felt normal, it felt natural like I never stopped and it felt good,” he said.
This past Friday, Schmitz flew down to Los Angeles where he had the surgery for the last check-up on the ligament and was give a clean bill of health as he quickly hopped back on the airplane back to Oregon to help his North Willamette Valley squad improve to 2-0 in league play with a 6-0 victory over West Linn.
“I’m done with it, they told me everything looks great and I’m good to go and now that I’m getting focused on the summer,” said Schmitz. “Continue to play defense, hitting and helping the team out and win games.”
This journey Andy Schmitz has been on, man it’s been a crazy one. A lot of hard work and sacrifice went into getting this young gentleman even healthy let lone sports healthy after suffering a very tough injury.
It showed the character of this individual in more ways than what’s shown with him communicating with his teammates on the base-paths as the community around Schmitz supported him through his recovery that it’s easy to see why it means so much to him through this process he’s been through.
“It’s been time consuming for sure and it’s been a long-process but I’m glad I’ve got people where I’m at to help me out. I couldn’t have done it without the people that are around this community, this team, the coaches and my family,” starts Schmitz.
“They’ve always been pulling for me. I mean the football coaches, the basketball coaches, obviously Randy, Ty, Tucker, my family; I mean they were always saying that I could do it and I knew I would get back one way or another. It was just a matter of how soon. It was great to be back sooner-rather-than-later.”
Talk about a heck of a Journey and Comeback by Andy Schmitz. It should be fun watching seeing how this kid does the rest of this summer and during his senior year!