|07-25-2007, 08:57 AM||#1|
Join Date: Jan 2005
The Constant Gardner
Here's a nice Richie Gardner article from today's (7.25) Louisville Courier Journal:
The Constant Gardner
After two serious injuries, Bats pitcher stays dedicated
By C.L. Brown
Career setbacks have become second nature to Richie Gardner. Fortunately for the Louisville Bats pitcher, so have his comebacks.
At 24, Gardner has conquered two potentially career-ending injuries, and this season he made his way from Class-A Sarasota through Double-A Chattanooga and landed with the Bats.
Gardner knows taking that next step from Triple-A to the major leagues is the toughest. At least he feels he's back in position to take that step.
"I just set my bar as high as I could," he said. "It's not even the level; it's more like how I feel when I'm pitching.
"I'm pitching the way I used to -- I might be throwing a little slower -- but I'm pitching the way I can, which is a good thing."
Although Gardner, who is 2-3 with a 5.83 ERA, sounds like an old-timer reminiscing on the glory days, he's really just speaking about the past five years.
In 2002 Gardner was considering turning pro after his sophomore season at Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College when an accident changed his plans.
A teammate performing drills on the opposite side of the field errantly threw a ball toward an unsuspecting Gardner, who was acting as a pitcher during bunting drills and wasn't wearing a helmet. The force of the baseball cracking against the back of his skull was enough to knock him down.
Nobody should get hurt during bunting drills. Or at least that's what Gardner thought, as he sat up, legs sprawled on the ground, trying to shake off the pain.
"It was a freak thing," he said. "I just happened to be the guy in the wrong spot at the wrong time, and I got smacked in the head."
Gardner and the trainer didn't think it was too serious. He left practice on his own power and went home with a huge headache. When he woke up the next morning feeling dizzy, he thought it was a concussion. It was worse than that.
Gardner sat outside the hospital with his father awaiting the results of a brain scan. When the results came in, Gardner said members of the staff came running outside as if he had just arrived in an ambulance, sirens blazing.
"They were scared and said, 'Hey, you need to get in this wheelchair and come inside right now,' " he said. "The scan showed I had a subdural hematoma."
In laymen's terms, that meant bleeding on the brain. It kept Gardner hospitalized for a week. Doctors determined he didn't need surgery and that his body would heal itself. But it meant he'd have to sit out his sophomore season.
"The doctor told me to pick up video games," Gardner said. "They just wanted me to sit there. I wasn't allowed to raise my heart rate for 2 1/2 months.
"That really set me back. I lost a lot of strength. It was a frustrating 10 months."
Gardner said he never thought about quitting baseball. He accepted a scholarship to the University of Arizona.
He bounced back to his old form, and during his one season with the Wildcats, rose to become the team's ace. The Cincinnati Reds took him in the sixth round of the 2003 draft.
In his first pro season in 2004, Gardner went a combined 13-5 with a 2.53 ERA between Class A and Double-A. He became the first Reds pitcher to win the Sheldon "Chief" Bender award -- recognizing their top player in the minors. He could throw 90-94 mph, but control and location were his strengths.
"A lot of people thought he was going to pitch in the big leagues," Bats manager Rick Sweet said.
But that time a shoulder injury blocked his path. Gardner's 2005 season ended early in Chattanooga when the pain became too much."I don't think he was feeling that good when he had that great year before his surgery," Bats pitching coach Ted Powers said. "He was pitching in a lot of pain."
The shoulder injury proved a tougher challenge than being beaned. One drill had Gardner throwing in increments of 30 feet up to 120 feet. There were times when he couldn't make the final distance.
"There weren't very many good days, at least in the early days," said Powers, who was the Reds' pitching-rehabilitation coordinator last year and worked with Gardner during his rehab stint. " … To see him here and remember what he was like there is really gratifying because he has really worked hard."
Gardner fought through it, he said, thanks to his previous injury.
"I believe if I wouldn't have had to go through that head injury, maybe I wouldn't have come back from shoulder surgery," Gardner said. "It made me understand some days are going to be bad and some days are going to be good."
Gardner made it back to the field last season for four starts combined with the Gulf Coast League Reds, a rookie-league squad, and Sarasota.
He started this season in Sarasota, where he went 5-1 in seven starts, and breezed through Chattanooga, where he was 2-1 in six starts. Gardner's combined ERA was 1.72.
Since being promoted to Louisville, Gardner has struggled. He admitted his velocity isn't back to his pre-surgery form -- he's throwing in the upper 80s -- but he's more concerned with his control. Gardner throws so many sliders and changeups he doesn't need a lot of velocity.
"He's doing a heck of a job, and I'm very happy for him," Sweet said. "There's nothing worse than having surgery and trying to battle through it.
" …This year he's back on track."