Doubt doesn’t come easily for Austin Braddock.
After all, when you love something as much as he loves baseball, it is easy to find motivation even in the most dispiriting situation.
Such was the case for Braddock in his junior season at Heritage Academy. Braddock’s right arm was suspended in a sling that was designed to prevent him from straightening his arm following Tommy John surgery to repair a ligament in his elbow. The surgery by Dr. James Andrews, who has performed similar operations on countless professional baseball players, was a success, but it was a little more than a year before Braddock could return to the mound and pitch again.
Nearly four years later, Braddock, now a senior right-hander at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, was asked to think back to that injury and how it affected his progress to this week, when he was selected as one of 32 semifinalists for the 2015 Brett Tomko Award presented by D2 Baseball News. The Tomko Award is an honor to be presented to D2’s Pitcher of the Year. Finalists will be narrowed down prior to the beginning of the NCAA Division II College World Series. The winner will be announced June 1.
“I am very honored to be a semifinalist for the award,” Braddock said. “I never once felt in the back of my mind that I was not going to play baseball again. Getting back on my game and where I was is — and even better — is always what I strived for. It did not cross my mind that I wouldn’t be strong again.”
Braddock, who played at New Hope High School and Heritage Academy before moving to East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, leads the Weevils and ranks fourth in the Great American Conference with a 2.57 ERA in 10 starts (63 innings). The Columbus native is 6-3. He has struck out 43 and walked 19. He leads the GAC in complete games (seven), is 10th in innings pitched, and third in opponent batting average (.219).
Braddock hurt his right elbow in a football game against Jackson Academy. He said it took nine to 10 months before he could return to action with his teammates in the summer league and a little more than a year before he could return to the mound. In that time, he said he rode the stationary bike and did situps, leg exercises, and core workouts to maintain his conditioning.
At the time, though, Braddock was focused on pitching and was still playing shortstop and hitting. He said he hit his freshman and sophomore years at EMCC as well as his junior year at Arkansas-Monticello. He said he received a chance to hit and to pitch when he arrived at UAM. He said he served as a designated hitter and started the season in the starting rotation. He regained a spot in the rotation in the second half of the season.
Focused on pitching
This season, Braddock said he was hitting in January but his elbow started to flare from tendonitis, so he stopped hitting and opted to focus on pitching, which he feels his team needs from him the most.
Braddock feels he has taken significant steps as a pitcher and that he has a better understanding of how to pitch and no longer is a “thrower.” He also said the work he has done with Bo Edmiston, a former pitcher at Mississippi Delta Community College and Mississippi College, who was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 15th round of the 2003 Major League Baseball Draft, has helped him grow stronger and learn new pitches that he is using this season. Edmiston went on to pitch for two years in the Astros organization and played one year of independent baseball.
“Me and him worked hard at it (the summer between his junior and senior year), and I came back with the same mentality,” Braddock said. “He helped fine-tune me a lot. We also worked for two weeks at Christmas. He got me feeling good. That was a plus.”
Braddock’s evolution as a pitcher has continued this season. He said he thinks a lot about possible opportunities to play professional baseball. He said he has three classes to take to complete his bachelor’s degree in business (focus on marketing). He said he will have to wait and see how this season finishes and if and where he gets selected in the MLB First-Year Player draft in June.
Until then, Braddock will continue to follow his passion and to learn about pitching. If everything falls into place, he could find himself taking home an award for his efforts. Considering the path Braddock has taken to get to this point, that would be a testament to his perseverance and his positive outlook.
“Even without getting picked as a semifinalist for this award I feel like all of the hard work I have put in has been worth it,” Braddock said. “All of the hard work and dedication will pay off as long as you stick with something.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.