Nov. 18, 2011
A Happy Sign
By Sean Ryan
Twitter - @collbaseball
years ago, Tyler Carrico couldn’t imagine playing college
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
“When I was first injured, at the time, I didn’t
know if I would run again, let alone play baseball,” Carrico
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
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
“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.”
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.
(photos by John Carrico)