“Trust the process.” Those three words rattled around in my mind as I ate breakfast that fateful day. The concept had been taught to me by my pitching coach, Micah Posey, at Elon University. He would preach these words to me in stressful situations to put my mind at ease.
As the bus drove the Saugerties Stallions to Elmira, my stomach had been tight with nerves. Having sat out this past year, I was beyond ready for competition. I had put in countless hours to get stronger in the weight room. I had crafted my game in the bullpen. It was time for me to trust my process.
The team was anxious to get to Elmira, and leave with a win after an upsetting extra-inning loss the night before in the first game of our season at Jamestown. Arriving at Elmira’s stadium, I was fascinated by the atmosphere. I felt as though I had entered a time warp, back again to the days when baseball was America’s favorite sport.
Entering the gates of the stadium, my excitement for the game was elevated. An usher told me the game was a sellout. I wanted so much to be on the mound again.
My teammates and I went through our warm-ups. Looking up in the stands, I was astonished to see how they were filling up an hour before the game. Before the national anthem, the crowd was wild with anticipation. Fans who had waited all spring for this moment would finally get to watch competitive collegiate baseball.
Police cars and trucks entered through the open centerfield gates. The vehicles drove around the warning track of the field as the announcer introduced important members of Elmira’s community. It was like a parade.
I entered the game as a reliever in the first inning.
The first inning went badly for our starting pitcher, and another guy who was supposed to go in after the starter got up to get loose. Sitting in the bullpen, I thought I was going to pitch after him. However, our coach came running down, yelling, “Hellman, get ready to go in.”
I was stunned.
I rose from the bullpen bench, and began to throw fastballs to the catcher. My arm was tight.
I saw the pitching coach calling me to the mound. It was my time to perform.
Reaching the mound, I could feel thousands of eyes locked on me. My heart was thumping rapidly. The once-peaceful stadium four hours ago was now populated with roaring fans.
Play ball, the umpire cried out. Everything went silent. I have always been able to silence my surroundings. I kept a tunnel vision on my catcher, and the stands became empty in my eyes.
I threw my first pitch with adrenaline pumping through my veins. Strike one.
The first inning proved difficult to get out of. I knew the next one would have to be more efficient. Fortunately, it was just that. A double-play ball and a strikeout gave me momentum. I was feeling more confident. I basked in the thrill of playing again.
I ran out to the mound for my next inning. My body felt strong.
That’s when I threw the pitch that would change my summer. My first game of the season as a pitcher for the Saugerties Stallions proved also my last.
My catcher signaled for a slider. Letting go of the baseball, I felt an unusual pain in my elbow. On the follow-through, my forearm felt as though it ascended from my body with the ball. I wasn’t sure what to do. My goal was to get this batter out and then take myself out of the game.
I’ll never forget that next pitch. It felt as though the ball exploded out of my hand harder than any ball I had ever thrown, but it brought the same pain as before.
The pitch didn’t make it to the catcher. The pain was overbearing. I walked off the mound holding my elbow.
Why had this happened? I was overcome by anger and disappointment. My next baseball chapter had been abruptly cut short.
The doctors checked me out, and the next day I returned to my small home town in Pennsylvania, with more doctors’ appointments scheduled. I am shut down for the summer, awaiting the next curve ball life will throw at me.
I will not let this bump in the road defeat me. I will just add it to the long list of obstacles I have endured throughout my baseball career, and will continue to endure.
Thank you, Saugerties, for the opportunity your town and your team gave me. I will never forget you.
Gavin Hellman is a 6’4” 192 pound right handed pitcher from Hummelstown, Pennsylvania. Read other articles in this series.