Warming up, Josh Gascon felt a bit of pain. But hey, what pitcher can say they’ve never come across a little pain here and there?
The first batter comes to the plate but sits right back down in the dugout after a quick three pitch strikeout. The following batter gives more of a battle, fighting off some pitches until the umpire calls strike three as he got caught looking on a pitch inside.
Up next comes the three hitter, the best pure hitter on the opposite team. Simply put, Gascon’s feeling untouchable, a great way to start a season. The first two batters go down easy in the first game of the year. Gascon winds up and hears, “pop-pop,” two small crackling sounds that come from his elbow while letting go of the ball. Instant shooting pain is coming from the inner part of his elbow.
To waste time Gascon walks off the mound apparently cleaning the ball off but in actuality biding time to see if the pain will vacate from his elbow.
Despite the pain being seemingly unbearable, Gascon takes his spot on the mound. He throws three straight pitches that are all off target and the batter throws his bat in the direction of his team’s dugout and walks to first shaking his head.
With pain still aggravating Gascon’s elbow, he attempts to ignore it. His first two pitches to the fourth hitter in the opposing team’s lineup are fastballs for strikes. Neither of them close to what Gascon’s usual high 80’s, occasional low 90’s fastball can get to. Taking the mound, Gascon gets set and “fires” a fastball clocked at 45 mph and the hitter jumps out of his shoes swinging for strike three and the inning is over.
On March 17, 2008, Josh Gascon experienced a pitcher’s worst nightmare.
“I went behind the dugout, popped about 5 or 6 ibuprofen and just stayed back there the entire half inning because I felt like I was going to barf,” said Gascon, then a student-athlete at FLCC. “I went back out, tried to just keep going and gut it out. But after my first warm up pitch went about 25, 26 feet I knew I’d only be hurting myself and more importantly the team if I kept going.”
After the game he was taken to the hospital right away and sure enough, he found out that he had in fact torn his MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) in his right elbow.
“Right when the doctor told me I needed surgery, I kind of broke down a little bit, because I really never thought I’d be able to come back from the injury,” Gascon said.
The surgery he had to get was the infamous Tommy John Surgery. Tommy John was a pitcher in the major leagues for 26 seasons but in 1974 he sustained an injury to his elbow. For the procedure of the surgery, a tendon is taken usually from the forearm and then used to attach the part of MCL that was torn.
Before Tommy John had the surgery, the injury ended pitcher’s careers. Since then, thousands of athletes from amateurs to professionals have taken on the surgery and successfully continued their baseball careers.
Gascon had a respectable high school career in Livonia, N.Y. He was a four year varsity player, three time all-star and during his senior year he led all Livingston County pitchers in strikeouts (100 plus), wins (9) and he was second in ERA (2.30).
“When I was a freshman in high school I remember seeing him pitch in Livonia and he was throwing 90[mph],” said Adam Szczupakowski, a former teammate of Gascon at FLCC. “I remember thinking he was a beast.”
Gascon only played one season and that one inning at FLCC, before transferring to Fredonia State this past fall.
He didn’t make the move to Fredonia alone though. Junior, shortstop John Bennett, a friend of Gascon’s chose to transfer to Fredonia State at the same time as Gascon.
“Gascon has been like a brother to me, even here,” Bennett said. “Coach Palisin talked to us both at the same time after a game at FLCC. Definitely one of the best friends I’ve ever had. We didn’t plan on transferring together, however him being here is one of my favorite parts of this college.”
Gascon’s surgery caused him to miss almost three years because of the rehabilitation process. This process is usually expected to take about 12 to 18 months now with proper methods. But it can be quite expensive to rehab from such an injury for an amateur athlete who is not getting paid to play. The amount the surgery costs alone can be staggering and that doesn’t even include the rehabilitation process, which is supposed to be three times a week.
Despite the time Gascon missed playing baseball, he’s made an impact on some of the people that now know him the best, but may have never had the opportunity to do so if it wasn’t for his injury.
“I’ve known Josh for little over a year now,” said Chris Fazio, also a former teammate at FLCC. “One of my closest friends I met at Finger Lakes. He is one of the hardest working individuals I have ever met. I faced Josh only once [in practice]. I worked the count but I popped up against him.”
Gascon had the surgery on April 24, 2009, just over a year after his injury. Without baseball Gascon decided he’d take up something he was successful at in high school: soccer. He only played soccer his senior year in high school but he still managed to be named a county all-star as well as a member of the exceptional senior game.
In Gascon’s second year at FLCC he was named to the all-conference team as a stopper. He admitted that he doesn’t have many foot skills, normally the main gift any soccer player has, but he did say what he did well was leaping up and getting headers. It wasn’t baseball but the main thing he loved about soccer was the slide tackling.
Baseball was gone, but not completely. During Gascon’s rehabilitation process, he taught himself how to do something many people can’t do.
“I actually learned to throw left handed so I could continue to be around the game as much as I possibly could,” Gascon said. “It took a lot of practice but I can play a good game of catch. I actually clocked my left arm at 64 [mph] one day, but I don’t have any pitching control with my left arm.”
Throwing lefty at 64 mph as a righty? There are people that can’t even throw that with their dominant hand. While 64 mph may fool a batter once in a while, it wouldn’t be enough to maintain consistency at the division III level.
Gascon obviously knew that his left arm wasn’t going to allow him to play competitively, but he did know one thing.
“After about a week [after the surgery] I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t work at being able to play once again,” Gascon said.
Gascon has appeared in six games while starting two. His record is 2-0.
While Gascon and the Blue Devils baseball team haven’t had their ideal season, Gascon has worked extremely hard to get back to playing baseball. Even though he admits that he is only able to throw around 84 mph now, he’s allowed to play the game he couldn’t live without.