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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Oakland Athletics’ Prospect Nick Rickles: What's It Like Rehabbing a Baseball Injury?

The enjoyment that professional baseball provides is only because of the hard work and sacrifices made by the players. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to injuries because of the rigorous physical demands on the body. When this happens the process of getting healthy and back on the field can be an arduous process. Nobody knows this better than Oakland Athletics’ minor league catcher Nick Rickles, who has been forced to sit out the entire 2014 season.

The 24-year-old Rickles was a 14th-round draft choice of Oakland in 2011 out of Stetson University. In his three professional seasons, he showed himself to be a promising prospect by hitting a combined .254 with 15 home runs and 106 RBIs in 224 games. His defense has also been impressive, as he has nabbed 43 percent of those attempting to steal bases. Most importantly, he progressed a level each year, including reaching Double-A in 2013.

2014 appeared to be a critical year for Rickles. Having just debuted in the higher reaches of the minors, he was possibly a strong season away from reaching the majors. A torn labrum has delayed those aspirations but not dampened them. With an amazing sense of dedication and determination, it’s a sure bet that the young catcher will be on the field and better than ever in 2015.

Many baseball players experience injuries and the road of rehabilitation back to health. But what is that like, both physically and emotionally? Rickles was kind enough to recently share some insight to that process in the midst of ongoing recovery.

Can you briefly describe the injury you had, how you suffered it, and what is your prognosis?: I tore my labrum during spring training. I'm not really early sure how I tore it but it was originally thought to not be as serious, however we went and got a MRI and found out it was torn unfortunately. Rehab is about a year, and I'm 16 weeks in this week. Everything is going great.

Can you describe the feelings, as a minor league prospect, of being told you will miss significant time because of injury?: This injury was a first for me of this kind of magnitude. I was sad, angry and confused but my dad helped me keep my head on straight. There are a lot of major league baseball players that have had this same surgery and have come back stronger than they were prior to the injury. I would say I had negativity in my head leading up to the surgery, but post surgery it was time to work and I had to focus and put the extra effort in to make sure coming back fully healthy and stronger is a reality.

How difficult is it to commit yourself to the rehab work, and from where do you get your inspiration?: It hasn't been hard to put the work in. We have an amazing staff headed by Nate Brooks that makes sure we understand time tables and set realistic expectations and goals for ourselves. I was raised to never give up, so even though this speed bump in my career might be a mountain, if I work hard enough I'll make it to the top and come out on the other side stronger.  

I get my inspiration from family and roommates. Derek DeYoung had Tommy John surgery around the same time, so we have had each other’s back from day one pushing each other to go the extra mile. As far as moral support Chris Kohler, also my roommate, has been here working with me on a diet so we both stay healthy. I still can't say enough of about my dad, mom, and brother who have flown out a couple times to keep my head straight.

What is the biggest thing you have learned about yourself while dealing with this injury?: That I have more fight than I thought. Being injured is never an easy thing but missing an entire season is not something I was prepared for. But just like baseball, life is a game of adjustments, so I've had to make the necessary adjustments to stay positive and work my tail off to get better.

Has this injury made you think more about your "baseball mortality," and if so, how has that impacted you?: This injury has made me realize how much I love the game. I miss it every single day, hitting, throwing, catching, drills and even conditioning. I look back at myself and wonder how I could have prevented it and there really isn't a correct answer to that. I know that once I'm able to play again I will never take a single pitch, inning, or game for granted. I didn't take anything for granted before the injury but this just puts everything in perspective to show you how quickly things can change in life and in your career.

How do you bounce back and reassert yourself in the ever-changing landscape of baseball player development?: I just have to believe in the system. I'm not the first person in baseball to tear my Labrum and I won't be the last, and our training staff with the Athletics know what they are doing. I have to remind myself to stick to the plan and not deviate from what plan is set for me. I have to do things right to make sure I have the opportunity to come back healthy or stronger. Resetting myself won't be a problem because I am itching to get back on the field now. I might have a little timidness towards throwing at first but it’s in my head and I have to put the fear behind me. 

What are your goals for the 2015 season?: To get healthy as soon as possible, work harder than any time in my life, stay healthy, strengthen my arm and get back into game shape. They goals will be less statistical for the rest of my career. Getting stronger, working hard and doing this the right way will lead to the career I want.

Just to add a thought for people going through injuries, I know it's hard at first and your might feel like giving up is the best option, it isn't. Life is crazy at times but in my opinion life is what you make it. You take whatever life throws at you and try to find a positive out of it. There are always things you can do to challenge yourself. I did the diet thing and have never felt better about myself in my life. Your mind can be your worst enemy or your best friend; what happens next is always in your hands.

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