Nov. 18, 2011


A Happy Sign


By Sean Ryan Co-Founder

Twitter - @collbaseball


Three years ago, Tyler Carrico couldn’t imagine playing college baseball.


In November 2008, the pitcher from James River High School in the Richmond suburb of Midlothian, Va., was recovering from spinal fusion surgery – a surgery where two 4-inch rods and four screws were used to fuse his lower vertebrae back together from a misdiagnosed break the year before.


“When I was first injured, at the time, I didn’t know if I would run again, let alone play baseball,” Carrico said.


He also didn’t know the number of curve balls that would be thrown his way in the coming months. Or the amount of pain he’d endure for the next year. Or the obstacles he’d have to overcome.


That the right-handed pitcher signed with Virginia, one of the top programs in the nation, is nothing short of remarkable. Better yet, unfathomable. But there he was, alongside three of his high school buddies last Tuesday, signing a piece of paper few could have imagined.


Just imagine for a second.


A pitcher who had more surgeries in his past than innings pitched for most of his junior season signed with one of the premier college baseball programs in the country. 


Carrico first injured his back in a youth football game in the fall of 2007. Doctors didn’t find the break initially, and Carrico played through pain during baseball season. That summer, Carrico saw a sports medicine physician, who found the break. Because it had taken so long to diagnose, the break wouldn’t heal with a brace, meaning the rising sophomore was headed for surgery.


“When we first heard of the injury to Tyler’s back, we feared that his ‘competitive’ baseball playing days were over,” said father John Carrico. “We just wanted his back to heal and to never need surgery again.”


The initial surgery resulted in a one-week stay in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, but the recovery process had begun. Or so the family thought. A few weeks after surgery, Carrico’s wound was not healing; a staph infection had set in the incision. Carrico endured a second surgery to open the wound and treat the staph infection. Because of the severity of the infection, a third surgery took place in January 2009 to insert a long-term IV that ran from Carrico’s shoulder to his heart.


Carrico was home-bound for the next four months, and a nurse had to come by several times a week to check his IV. His parents, John and Sheri, were trained to change the IV line, including many 4 a.m. changes. Late in the spring of 2009, Carrico finally was able to return to school and start his rehab.


“It was definitely the darkest time I could ever imagine,” Carrico said of his rehab. “It was the most pain, you couldn’t move your neck without screaming.”


As if that weren’t enough for the Carrico family, Tyler’s younger brother Drew, who was 11 at the time, woke up the morning before Thanksgiving 2008 with a pain in his chest. He had a massive, softball-sized tumor in his chest that was removed in a seven-hour surgery.


A bright spot for the family was when several members of Virginia’s baseball team traveled the hour from Charlottesville to visit Drew (see CBI’s story from 2009 here). Both John and Sheri Carrico graduated from Virginia, and the family has had season tickets to Cavaliers sports teams for years. Drew had served as Virginia’s bat boy a few times for a couple seasons before his surgery.


Fast forward two years to last season, when Carrico was a junior on a loaded James River squad. Fellow pitchers Nathan Kirby (Virginia), Kit Sheetz (Virginia Tech) and Jack Roberts (2013), the brother of former Cavaliers pitcher Will Roberts, who threw a perfect game against George Washington in 2011, made it tough for Carrico to get mound time.


Carrico, who said he was topping out at 84 in the spring, was 1-0 with a 1.97 ERA in just 11 innings. Five of those innings came in the Central Region final, when he allowed a run on two hits as James River captured the title.


“Tyler has had several adversities to overcome, and it’s a testament to him that he has battled through them,” James River coach Pete Schumacher said. “He had the physical injuries and worked very hard to push through that recovery to become an excellent pitcher.


“He also has had to wait his turn behind some veteran pitchers on our staff. He continued to work, continued to battle and looked for his opportunity. When that opportunity came in the Regional Final, he was prepared, and he was the difference for us. What a thrill it was to watch him have that success on such a big stage.”


Carrico was off the radar of most schools, with the exception of some Ivy League schools.


Something happened as Carrico began his summer season with the Virginia Cardinals. His velocity continued to improve. A couple weekends into the summer, he showed well at a tournament at Virginia Tech, attracting several scholarship offers. The next weekend, his fastball neared 90 as he pitched at Virginia, the school of his dreams but never much of a realistic thought after his surgeries.


Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor pulled Carrico and his parents aside and offered Carrico a scholarship.


“Words can’t describe it: I was shocked, my jaw dropped,” Carrico said. “I think before he finished his sentence, I was already saying yes.”


Added his father, John: “Obtaining an offer to play college baseball was never really given any consideration during the dark days right after his surgery, and clearly receiving an offer to play baseball at an Omaha-caliber school such as Virginia was beyond our wildest dreams.” 


Carrico’s summer coach, Rich Graham of the Virginia Cardinals, credits his pitcher’s remarkable dedication, determination and faith.


“Tyler kept working hard and never gave up on his dream to be a college pitcher, and it paid off with his recent commitment to play for the best team in the country,” Graham said. “It’s an amazing story…he defines perseverance.”


Carrico and his brothers in arms, as well as Longwood commit and battery-mate Colin Lawless and position players Mac Caples and Michael Trentham, will make James River the team to beat in Richmond and one of the elite teams in Virginia.


And then, Carrico will play for one of the elite teams in college baseball.


He can’t help but look back on the road he’s traveled to get to this point.


“I honestly believe those surgeries put me where I am today,” Carrico said.


And he knows he needs to keep working, increasing his velocity even more and developing his secondary pitches. His hope is to be part of Virginia’s starting rotation one day.


“I don’t know how long that will take, but it’s in my sights,” Carrico said.


It could happen.


Just imagine.

(photos by John Carrico)