By Nick Friar / Contributing Writer
Two years ago, Michael Young was coming off his season with the New Bedford Bay Sox, where he'd thrown 37.1 innings and posted a 3.85 ERA heading into his sophomore campaign for Stonehill College. He went on to post a 3.12 ERA in 2016, making nine starts and striking out 54 over 66 1/3 innings.
But his season didn't end as expected, tearing his UCL, forcing him to get Tommy John surgery and miss his entire junior season.
"It sucks and it's not something you look for," Young said. "But you always hear stories of guys who go through something like that and come back better."
After missing the 2017 college season, he hooked on to the Cranberry League, making a few starts there before signing on with the Bay Sox at the tail end of the season, making one relief appearance where he struck out four, walked one and gave up a hit over two innings.
All that, plus tireless rehabbing, led to Young being named the 2018 opening day starter for the Skyhawks. And he did not disappoint, throwing 95 pitches over six innings against Mercy College, striking out 10 while surrendering one run on two hits and three walks.
"I don't know if I really saw myself coming back as an opening day starter," Young said. "But I absolutely saw myself coming back and having an immediate impact this year."
There were some jitters that came with the start. He scuffled a bit in the second inning, where he walked two batters and gave up his lone run. But the mental game started even before he took the mound against mercy, over 12 hours before first pitch.
"I had a hard time sleeping the night before (my start)," Young said. "I was really nervous. Once I was out there, I felt more comfortable. It felt more like home.
"I was definitely a little bit nervous (in the second inning). But I knew that the whole first inning guys were pretty behind on my fastball. I knew that after I walked the first guy if I could simplify things and just throw strikes with my fastball, I could get myself out with a fastball and they'd get themselves out. That's the approach I took the rest of the game. But when I started walking guys it was definitely a weird feeling because I hadn't been in that situation for a while."
His return wasn't as simple as his approach against Mercy, though.
Young easily could've followed simple procedure by doing a standard rehab program to become the pitcher he was prior to the injury. He'd had success before and was hit the low 90s with some consistency.
But Young had higher aspirations — and he didn't want to deal with further elbow problems either. So he sought out some of the best in the business to make sure he'd return as a more complete pitcher than he'd been pre-surgery.
He started by rehabbing with one of baseball's top physical therapists, Eric Schoenberg of Momentum Physical Therapy in Milford, Mass. Keep in mind, that's a 43-minute drive from Stonehill College and an hour and 20 minute drive from Young's home in Mashpee. There, Schoenberg worked on Young's throwing pattern to make his delivery more efficient.
"When you can throw a baseball upwards of 90 miles an hour or above, even if you're a Division III kid throwing 83, 84, 85, it's a lot of repetitive stress on the arm," Schoenberg said. "And the focus has always been: get the arm strong. Do your j-band programs. Do your rotator cuff strengthening programs. Do all of that stuff. We always say the arm is important because it has the hands that hold the ball. The power in your body, if you had your choice of having it come from your legs, butt and core versus your arms, all the power comes from the ground and your lower half.
Young was the opening starter for the Skyhawks this season, earning a 3-2 win over Mercy College, striking out 10 batters in 7.0 innings
"Everyone knows that, everybody can identify that, but the hard part is connecting with a kid to the point where he can say, 'I know how to do this for myself.' Because everybody's different. The cues and the instruction might be different, but the overall philosophy is: put stress somewhere besides your elbow and shoulder and that will hopefully keep you healthy. As importantly, if you're using your bigger muscles to create power rotationally to the plate, you're velocity's going to go up."
As Young learned how to use his entire body to throw, he knew there were areas that needed strengthening to continue to add more power to his pitches. Having played under former Bay Sox manager Kyle Fernandes of Westport and developing a relationship former Bay Sox teammate, now Milwaukee Brewers minor league pitcher, Andrew Vernon, he knew about Infinite Fitness in Somerset, turning to Mike Fernandes — despite being an hour away from Mashpee — to help further the work Young was doing with Schoenberg.
"Once I evaluated him and saw where he was, I hopped on the phone with Eric (Schoenberg) so we could game plan and make sure we were on the same page in terms of (Young) going forward," Mike Fernandes, also of Westport, said. "From that day forward, once we designed his program for him, (Young) was all business.
"We saw a lot of room for improvement in him utilizing his hips and rotational power, really. His hips were extremely tight so he was getting locked and wasn't able to use his lower half. Once we were able to loosen up his hips and get him to utilize his lower half more, at that point we were not only making sure we added strength, but keeping him healthy, too. Because it doesn't matter how strong someone is, if they can't pitch, what's the point?"
Even that wasn't enough for Young. On top of playing a little over the 2017 summer, he worked with some teammates at Stonehill, throwing to them as preparation for the fall and his return to the Skyhawks.
"That just told me right there that this kid is more committed to get back than any other guy," Stonehill head coach Pat Boen said. "It's kind of a common injury, a common surgery for pitchers now. It's not guaranteed that you're going to come back healthy. Some guys think they're going to have the surgery and they're going to be better than they were before. But it really takes a commitment to the rehab that (Young) really put in that allowed him to get back to this stage and throw the quality game he did (in his first start)."
Young's commitment also earned him the role of captain in addition to being the team's opening day starter. More importantly, his devotion has Young back on the field and throwing as hard, if not harder that he was pre-surgery — hitting into the 90s in the fall again, not having been gunned since. His demeanor, which Boen, Schoenberg and Mike Fernandes all echoed, continues to make Young one of Stonehill's top arms and keeps his ultimate dream a reality: playing baseball professionally.