A comeback two years in the making
From time to time, everyone misses a few days here or there with a cold, or maybe a week or two with tonsilitis or a waiting for a cast to finish healing a broken bone. Such is life with fallible bodies. What makes up for this fragility is what one does after the injury has healed, and it is again time to go back to work.
Prior to opening day of this season, senior Casey Grayson had missed roughly two years while grappling with various injuries. The first baseman missed all of last season and appeared in only about half of the games the year before. The victim of a hamstring pull in 2012 and a torn ACL in 2013, Grayson was awarded a medical redshirt.
Redemption from injury isn’t rare in baseball. Some players, like Boston Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro, never really came back from their injuries, while Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Tommy John, the namesake of the well-known surgery, came back to collect a few World Series rings before retirement.
Regaining his confidence
Though Grayson believed at heart that he would return as the same player, he still carried a bit of doubt.
“I’ve been confident in my ability, but, you know, I’ve been out for two years, and you kind of wonder what it’s going to be like when you come back,” Grayson said. “But I’ve had a pretty good year.”
By now, he has erased all doubt.
With his last year of eligibility, Grayson sidestepped any personal melancholy ending by hitting above .320 with four home runs and has reached base in 17 consecutive games. For UH, a team on the hunt for a spot in the NCAA tournament, his return has become a symbol of its goals to reach the semi-mythical promised lands of Omaha. Grayson has provided a bat and glove that has helped the Cougars notch 31 wins after securing a series victory against Cincinnati this weekend.
“I don’t feel like I’ve missed a beat for most of our season, even though I’ve been out for two years. Since I came back, it feels like I fit right back in just like where I left off,” said Grayson, who was honored as American Athletic Conference Player of the Week on April 21.
“I don’t want to say it surprises me, but it’s a little surprising just by the fact I’ve been out for two years,” Grayson said. “I came out hot at first, then kind of cooled off a little bit, but I’m swinging the bat well again. I thought it would take a little bit coming out of the gates, but it shows up when it shows up.”
Successful return not a surprise
The commander of the UH journey, head coach Todd Whitting, sees both the good and the practical sides of Grayson’s return and production. Having watched his first baseman recover and train during the spring, Whitting expressed no hesitations in putting Grayson back in the lineup.
“He’s having a great year, and for us to go anywhere, he’s got to have a great year,” Whitting said. “He hits three or four home runs for us for the year. If you’re going to have a good team, you got to have a guy in the middle who makes your offense go.”
Grayson himself echoed his coach’s pronouncements, admitting that, briefly, he would feel twinges of nervousness about stepping back into the everyday lineup.
“I guess at times I was a little worried about how things were gonna feel, coming off the ACL injury and all that. Now, it feels like nothing ever happened.”
Grayson has made plays throughout the year which seemingly indicate that he has completely moved on from any lingering pain. Beyond his contributed numbers, Grayson has also helped boost the morale of the dugout, teammates said. Sophomore second baseman Josh Vidales noted what it’s like to observe the first baseman’s season from a distance.
“It’s impressive,” Vidales said. “Real early on in the season, he was struggling a little bit, couldn’t find a hole, even though he was hitting balls hard. Recently, he’s been seeing a beach ball at the plate. He’s hitting the ball really good. I think in the postseason, he’s going to play a big role on the team.”
Grayson was just as quick to credit his teammates with aiding in his turnaround. With roughly a dozen games left in the regular season leading up to the conference tournament in Clearwater, Florida, Grayson is eyeing the conference but still appreciates his surroundings and timing.
“Last year, sitting on the bench, you don’t get to play the game with them, but you’re still part of the team. You still hang around them, having them here for support and having people to talk to about everything. They were big in helping me get healthy and wanting to get back on the field,” Grayson said.
“Obviously, I’m glad I’m having a good season, but most importantly, it’s about the team. If I wasn’t having a great season, but the team was still winning ball games, that’s what would matter most. Either way, it’s about what we do as a team more than what we do for ourselves.”