By JOE McFARLAND
Erik Sabrowski has probably watched a lot more hockey in the last year than he would care to admit.
After lighting up the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) with the Edmonton Prospects and then breaking records with Cloud County Community College, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound left-hander garnered more accolades by being selected by the San Diego Padres in the 14th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft.
READ MORE: That’s Erik with a K
But shortly after heading to Arizona to start working with the Padres, the Edmonton-area product received some awful news while trying to treat a sore elbow: he would need Tommy John surgery.
The 21-year-old has spent the last year going through the ebbs and flows of recovery. As a result, he has been able to catch a few more Oilers games than usual.
We caught up with Sabrowski recently for Episode 59 of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast, where he admitted the victories and setbacks on his road back to baseball have taught him a lot about himself and what it will take to get to the next level.
Q: When did you notice something was off and how did you find out that you would need Tommy John surgery?
A: I knew something was wrong up in my elbow. I had seen a bunch of doctors out in Kansas in school and no one could give me a straight answer. Like I said, I knew something was wrong but I wasn’t sure what it was. I found out about a month after I was down in Arizona with the Padres. The doctors came through and we had a quick chat and realized that elbow wasn’t getting any better with the treatment we were giving it, so we just elected for surgery.
Q: Walk us through your thought process after you found out you would be going through surgery. Were you scared or optimistic that you would be able to fix what was ailing you?
A: To be honest, I was crushed. No kid dreams of starting their pro career sitting out for 16 months because they’re injured. But once I got over that hump, I realized that it was more than a year to get my body ready and get my mind ready to compete at a professional level.
— Absolute Human Performance (@AbsoluteHPerf) January 9, 2019
Q: Tell us about the last year and what the training has been like.
A: The early goings of the rehab process sucked. You do the same thing six days a week. You go in and try to get your range of motion back in your elbow. You’re trying to strengthen the forearm and tricep areas around it to take pressure off the actual elbow.
So, it was five months before I even started throwing, just over and over, lots of repetition. But once you start throwing, it flies by. You’re constantly gaining new distance every week, more throws, more intensity. You start to feel like a baseball player again and then you get the fun back into it.
Q: What went through your mind when you were able to step on a mound and, even if it was a short distance, you were able to throw a baseball and have it in your hand again?
A: I was pretty nervous. It had been a long time and you would think about the previous nine months of your rehab and you wonder if you have done enough to be ready to step on a mound again and throw pitches and compete. I was nervous, but once I threw the first pitch, it was back to normal and business as usual.
— Taylor Burns (@tburns34) June 6, 2018
Q: I know when you have knee or ankle injuries in football, players are challenged in coming back because you just don’t know if you’re going to be able to run the same way. I assume baseball is the same way with arm or elbow injuries. How much of a challenge was it for you to get over the mental hump?
A: Yeah, the mental hump plays into it, but that was something that I didn’t want myself to play into. I wanted to be at a point where I trusted the rehab process, I trusted my trainers, trusted my pitching coaches and trusted myself and my elbow in that it would hold up and that it’s stronger than ever … knowing that I’ve done the right things to put me in a spot where I can go out on a mound to get better and finish off the throwing program I had and make strides on the pitching side of things.
Q: Was there someone you leaned on during this process or a story you heard that made you believe you could come back the way you had?
A: Our rehab pitching coach. His name is Ben Fritz and he’s a long-time minor leaguer who got surgery soon after his college career ended and he got into the pros. So we had many discussions about the rehab process and some of the things to look out for once you get throwing. He was a good resource to use on my road back.
Q: So the question now becomes: how does it feel now?
A: Good. I finally got to face batters last week. Threw 20 pitches to five batters and now we’re going to shut it down for the season. I’m going to take a two-month break and then resume throwing.
Big off-season ahead for @ErikSabrowski
— Absolute Human Performance (@AbsoluteHPerf) October 12, 2019
Q: What about that future prognosis? Have you chatted with Padres and what their expectations are of you or are you taking it week-to-week?
A: I’ll start playing catch in December, stretch it out in January and then head down sometime in February before spring training to catch up on some bullpens I missed by going home. And then, the goal is to have a good spring training and make a team out of camp.
Q: Speaking of being back home, you have been the focus of some social media spotlight lately in pitching and speaking with kids. What’s been your main message to them?
A: Anything is possible, really. You look at guys like (Mike) Soroka, Matt Lloyd and myself, we’re all in different kinds of situations. Soroka was a first-rounder out of high school. Matt started at JUCO (junior college) then went to a Division 1 school and then me, coming straight out of JUCO. The route is there, you just have to put your work in and do the little things that maybe you don’t want to do. But those little things add up and they could put you in a good position to succeed.
— Taylor Burns (@tburns34) October 8, 2019
Q: How big is the mental game in the grand scheme of things?
A: Oh, very important. I can’t quote that Yogi Berra quote off the top of my head. But it’s way more than 50 percent. You gotta know what you’re doing mentally to do it physically.
(The quote made famous by Yogi Berra about the mental aspect of baseball is: “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”)
Q: What does it mean to you to be asked by the crew up in Edmonton to speak with the kids and to be a bit of a role model for them as you go through your own journey?
A: It’s awesome. I used to be one of those kids. I’ve been working with Taylor Burns since I was 13 and I remember being a kid and listening to him talk, or he would bring in one of his buddies like Ethan Elias to come chat with us.
I remember being that kid and how important those sessions were for me, so it’s awesome to give back and be able to do that for these kids now.