Former Firelands Conference pitchers follow similar paths

Perhaps someday down the road, two former Firelands Conference standout pitchers can open a firm titled Chafin & Chaffins for cl
Mark Hazelwood
May 24, 2010

Perhaps someday down the road, two former Firelands Conference standout pitchers can open a firm titled Chafin & Chaffins for clients that have gone through traumatic sports injuries.

For now, 2008 Western Reserve graduate Andrew Chafin and 2006 New London graduate Corey Chaffins have careers to finish as Division I pitchers in the Mid-American Conference while coming off major arm surgery.

Chafin, named the MAC Freshman of the Year at Kent State University this past spring, saw his season end prematurely after feeling elbow pain May 8 in a game against Akron. Less than a month later, MRI results showed a tear of the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in Chafin's throwing elbow, and now the renowned Tommy John surgery awaits Chafin on Tuesday morning in Cincinnati.

Chafin will be out up to 12 months, and will miss the entire 2010 season for the Golden Flashes.

"I wasn't that surprised when they told me that's what was wrong," Chafin said. "The longer it took to get a diagnosis, the less confident I felt about it being something minor. At first it was tough thinking about not being able to pitch next year, but I'm already getting in the mindset to get ready to come back and be draft-eligible after my redshirt sophomore season."

Meanwhile, Chaffins, a redshirt sophomore at Eastern Michigan University, has already been through the lengthy and painful process. Chaffins underwent Tommy John surgery in late October 2007 and missed all of last season, but responded this spring by pitching his way to an All-MAC second-team selection.

Chafin and Chaffins are in frequent contact with each other, and Chaffins said he will be up front with Chafin about what awaits him.

"It's hard, I won't lie to him about that," Chaffins said. "It's not an easy thing to go through and there is no beating around the bush with this process. It's a pretty strict protocol to follow for rehab, and if he sticks to it the right way the success rate of coming back is 90 percent. But you can't overdue it or go too fast."

Tommy John surgery is a procedure in which a ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body. In Chafin's case, they will use a tendon from his wrist. The surgery is named after former Major League Baseball pitcher Tommy John, who in 1974 was the first professional athlete to successfully undergo the operation.

"It's such a common procedure these days, it's not as big of a deal as some other major injuries," Chafin said. "I read that in last year's MLB Draft, 30 percent of the pitchers in the top 10 rounds had already had the surgery and teams still pick those guys like nothing's even wrong."

Chaffins went through a soft-tossing program for six months, then was gradually allowed to increase the workload on his arm and by 10 months post-surgery was the earliest he was able to throw regularly.

"You have to stick to the same pace and not rush things, which is what I tried to do," Chaffins said. "My arm didn't stop hurting until about 15 or 16 months after the surgery. I'm now at 19 months removed and throwing about the exact same I was before injured it.

"Now I don't overdue it and know exactly what I can do so it won't hurt when I pitch, which wasn't the case when I first came back."

As the Golden Flashes closer, Chafin had eight saves and went 4-1 this season with a 1.26 ERA along with 55 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings of work.

Chaffins admittedly had an up and down season, evidenced by a 7.83 ERA in 14 appearances and 11 starts, but still finished with a 5-3 record and 69 strikeouts -- 20 more than the next closest pitcher accumulated on the EMU staff.

"Getting my location back and where I wanted to throw it was the hardest part," Chaffins said. "But for Andrew, it will be harder mentally than physically. The mental part is you know you feel perfectly fine, but yet you can't go out and throw or really do anything at all. You just have to sit there and wait. It's a tough process."

Next season won't be the only thing the injury costs Chafin, however. He was invited to try out for the Team USA collegiate team on June 24, but that is also out the window.

"I'd rather get it fixed now than try and push it and make things worse," Chafin said. "This was probably about the best time it could happen, because it gives me time to get it fixed properly and come back and be better than I was before."