On his penultimate warm-up pitch, Grant Hartwig felt his elbow pop.
Immediately, pain set in.
He ignored it for nearly five innings before later finding out he needed Tommy John surgery to repair the Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) in his right elbow that was partially torn in two places.
“It’s actually a funny story,” Hartwig said with a straight face last week.
Hartwig can say it’s humorous now. After a year and a half away from a competitive Miami baseball game, the now-redshirt junior righty returned to the mound Feb. 16 against Texas A&M to complete a long road of recovery.
But on April 11, 2018, Hartwig was readying himself to pitch against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the annual Joe Nuxhall Classic, when he hurt himself.
He didn’t know exactly what was wrong but decided to fight through.
Against Kyle Mottice, the first batter of the ballgame, Hartwig thought he struck him out looking on a 2-2 pitch. The home plate umpire called it ball three.
On the next pitch, Mottice blasted a home run to right field.
The second hitter, Manny Rodriguez also went yard, drilling a pitch over the left-field wall.
Hartwig’s arm was throbbing.
“I said to myself, ‘You know what? Am I just going to kind of cop out with the injury and say my arm hurts, or am I going to pitch through it and see how well I can do?’” Hartwig said.
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He did very well, gutting it out until the fifth inning and leaving his team with a lead after 88 pitches.
“Grant is super competitive,” Miami head coach Danny Hayden said. “I think that’s one of the first things I noticed about him when recruiting him. He’s like that with his family, too. I remember a conversation with him and his mom in the recruiting process, when you could tell, like, they were very competitive people, and he wasn’t going to be bashful or shy in big moments. He showed that early in his career, even before his injury.”
After he was pulled, Hartwig went to Miami’s training staff and said something was wrong. The pain lingered mostly in his tricep, which he had strained as part of the same injury.
Little did Hartwig know, the pop he felt was actually a tear.
He suffered partial tears on both sides of his UCL and strained his tricep, because when his ligament ripped, his elbow pinched his tricep.
His season was deemed over.
Hartwig, a microbiology pre-med major, sat at home doing typical student activities while his teammates played the game he loves.
After final exams in May, he underwent Tommy John surgery performed by renowned Cincinnati doctor Timothy Kremchek, who has operated on many professional athletes, including the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals.
“We (Dr. Kremchek and I) established that I wasn’t going to play the next year, so there was no need to rush,” Hartwig said. “A typical person would be out for 12 months and be throwing about four months after surgery. I waited nine months.”
Over the summer of 2018, the Plymouth, Michigan native lived in Oxford to hone in on his rehab.
“That was easy,” Hartwig said. “Just being able to put my head down, grind, not worry about anything else, not see anything else. The hardest part was being back here in the fall and seeing everyone else being able to play and practice and do all that stuff, when I had my complete separate agenda. I’d say the hardest part was watching my team play while knowing I couldn’t have an impact on the field.”
Hartwig said he invested in his teammates, finding that to be the best motivation to get him to the field every day.
He worked hard behind the scenes of Miami’s successful 2019 season and joined the Lakeshore Chinooks for summer ball. His first appearance for the Chinooks was his first live action in more than a year, and he possessed some new tricks to try out.
During his rehab, Hartwig said he developed a new mentality. Instead of trying to make perfect pitches, he now trusts his stuff and goes after hitters, pounding the strike zone with a fastball that touches the low 90s and a few breaking pitches.
His newest: a vulcan-grip change-up he implemented during his sophomore year and a slider he learned from his teammate, Sam Bachman.
After a shaky first outing back against Texas A&M, Hartwig received a shot at redemption against Purdue Fort Wayne last weekend. Sunday, he entered a game at Miami’s home field, Hayden Park, for the first time since his injury.
He allowed a single to the first batter he faced before fanning the second for his first strikeout since April 2018.
He didn’t wince in pain or smile in satisfaction.
He fooled the batter with a breaking ball.