White Sox: Michael Kopech and the Tommy John Surgery Rehab Battle

Michael Kopech has an uphill battle in his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery after tearing the UCL in his right elbow late last season.

This past Monday, White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech posted an update that provided optimism for all White Sox fans. A simple video of him throwing on his Instagram page captioned, “Back throwing & one step closer”. The video, which was a production of Sox TV, showed Kopech throwing very low effort. Though some may not understand the significance, it is likely a day that will go down as one of the best moments of Kopech’s young career.

I’m certain of this because I was in Kopech’s shoes about a year ago. Kopech had his ulnar collateral ligament reconstructed on Sept. 18, 2018. I had mine reconstructed almost exactly a year before on Sept. 19, 2017. It is an experience that nobody could ever understand until they go through it themselves. It takes patience, optimism, and most importantly positivity. It makes us pitchers think in ways we never have before.

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For Kopech, it would be hard to believe he feels any different. He seemed to be on top of the world in the fall. Us Sox fans tend to do that to our beloved. Unfortunately, it probably made the reality of requiring surgery that much more difficult. It’s like going from 100 to 0. The feeling of being on the mound is something so amazing that only a pitcher could understand. We feel strong on the mound, we feel like nobody can beat us, it’s a feeling that is unprecedented. When we are told that is being taken away from us for a year or more, it is difficult to swallow.

Let me walk you through the typical Tommy John process. The week following the surgery is arguably the most difficult. It is recommended that you stay immobile following the surgery. After about two weeks or so, it is onto physical therapy. The first few weeks of it are slow and painful, it’s as if you’ve been given a brand new arm and it must be broken in almost like a glove. The next step is the throwing process, which Kopech recently entered.

As small a feat as it may seem, reaching the throwing stage feels like conquering a goal that at one point felt like it would never come. For months after, you’re limited to very light throwing. It’s a very boring process and it takes everything in you to not want to fire a fastball as hard as you can, though your new elbow certainly wouldn’t let you.

Eventually, you are cleared to ramp up your throwing intensity and add a couple of off speeds into the mix. From that point to the conclusion of the rehab, it goes beyond the physical challenge.

For me personally, that phase was spent trying to find myself and get back the pitcher I once was before the surgery. It’s very, very aggravating, and much easier said than done. Every throw feels like it could be better like you’re doing something wrong, and quite honestly it’s downright tiring. For me, it took about 13-14 months post-surgery to get past this stage of negativity.

I’m almost certain Kopech will face the same mental challenges I did. Quite honestly, I hope he does. Why? Because I think it’s one of the most difficult challenges ballplayer can face, and it will only make him so much smarter by the end of it. What doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger, and in this case, it will make him much stronger both mentally and physically.

There’s not much more I can say to better describe it. Kopech has a long way to go, and a tough journey to conquer. Luckily for us Sox fans, he has great resources to do so.

Although we’d all love to see Kopech pitching for the Sox in 2019, he’s becoming healthier by the day due to a new profound emphasis on his health. His process is going to be a long one but it is one that will teach him patience. The feeling of watching your team play a whole season without you being able to do anything about it is the worst, I did it last year in my freshman year at Chicago State University.

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So here’s to wishing Kopech the best in his recovery, from myself and all Sox fans. It is a hell of a journey and one that could only be understood by those who have gone through it. Here’s to hoping Kopech not only returns as an even better pitcher but a stronger person!