Former Ram Cla Meredith is finding the positive where it not might be obvious.
Sure, he couldn’t play baseball last summer for the first time since he can remember, and his livelihood has been threatened following three surgeries in 18 months, but he’s found it’s not all bad.
“I probably had the nicest lawn on my block last summer,” he said.
Meredith, who spent the majority of six seasons from 2005-2010 pitching in the Major Leagues with the Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles, missed the 2011 season after a series of injuries to his right elbow and shoulder. He signed with the Washington Nationals prior to the 2011 season, but blew out his elbow in Spring Training and was released.
Rather than wallow in self-pity or brood over the prospects of his uncertain baseball career, Meredith, 28, came home to Richmond to his wife Natalie and daughters Adellyn, 3, and Harper, 1.
After more than a decade of college summer leagues and pro ball, Meredith, a Meadowbrook High School graduate, spent a summer in his hometown. Once the initial shock of his release wore off, he was able to appreciate the experience. He played golf, saw friends, worked around the house and most importantly, spent time with his family.
“It turned out to be the best summer of my life, to be honest with you,” Meredith admitted.
Harper was born January 17, 2010, shortly before Meredith was scheduled to leave for spring training. From spring training to the World Series, the Major League Baseball season spans nearly nine months. When Adellyn was born, Meredith says he was away for many of his daughter’s firsts. He was happy to be around this time.
“To be at home and around her, when I missed so much of that with our first daughter, that’s invaluable. I’ll never get that time back,” he said. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise.”
As much as he enjoyed being a homebody for the better part of the last year, Meredith made it clear he’s not through with baseball, however. There’s a competitive fire still burning.
“I certainly miss competing. I miss being in the clubhouse and all the day-to-day stuff and around all the guys and characters,” he said. “Hopefully I can get all that back.”
‘I FELT A SNAP’
Olise Cla Meredith was selected by the Red Sox in the sixth round of the 2004 Amateur Draft and made his Major League debut less than a year later. In 2006, Boston traded the Meredith to San Diego, where he enjoyed three and a half productive seasons as a set-up man, including his 2006 campaign, when he finished 5-1 with a 1.07 ERA in 45 games. Over the next three seasons, he appeared in 187 games. Midway through the 2009 season, the Padres traded 6-foot reliever to Baltimore.
Meredith was 26 at the start of 2010 season, on the cusp of what is generally considered a player’s prime. After four full Major League seasons, he had also reached his “arbitration years”, a period before a player is eligible for free agency that provides him with greater leverage in contract negotiations.
But the 2010 season was a disaster. His elbow didn’t feel right. Meredith had trouble getting loose and his fastball, which normally reached 88-89 miles an hour, was topping out at 82-83. In addition, Meredith’s sinkerball, his best pitch, went from a hard, biting sink to a slow, looping action. Meredith was battered by opposing hitters, and after posting a 5.40 ERA in 21 appearances, the Orioles jettisoned him to AAA Norfolk.
“Even at 88-89, I need sink. I can’t get away with that type of velocity without that sharp movement. That’s what always made me effective,” Meredith said. “Obviously you take the two things away that made me effective and I’m a pile of meat out there.”
Meredith began to experience sharp pain in his elbow even when he wasn’t throwing, and his pitching continued to suffer. He gave up 32 hits in 27 innings and had an ERA of 6.00 before he was shut down for the season in September.
Doctors found bone chips in the elbow, a common injury for pitchers. Meredith had surgery and signed with Washington as a free agent during the offseason. But during his first Spring Training mound session, he threw about 20 pitches before he said he felt “a snap”.
An MRI revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). Meredith needed “Tommy John” surgery, named for the pitcher who pioneered it, a procedure in which a tendon from elsewhere in the body is transplanted to the elbow.
By mid-June Meredith was throwing to about 90 feet when he said he shoulder “crashed”, losing strength and range of motion. He stopped throwing briefly, but by October he was starting to feel comfortable throwing when the shoulder flared up again. Not only was the shoulder weak, but Meredith could barely raise his arm to reach into a cabinet.
Meredith had torn his labrum, cartilage inside the shoulder socket that stabilizes the joint and allows for a wide range of movements. He had surgery Nov. 10 and has begun rehabilitation.
THE NEXT STEP
Tommy John surgery has become commonplace in baseball, and many pitchers return stronger than before, but the shoulder is a different animal. A full recovery from major shoulder surgery can take more than a year and some pitchers are never the same.
“This surgery doesn’t have as high as success rate [as Tommy John surgery],” Meredith said. “I haven’t been given a death sentence, but the shoulder is a lot more complex.”
Meredith, who says hasn’t suffered any setbacks, expects to begin throwing during the spring and hopes to be ready to play baseball again by May or June. There won’t be any Major League deals out there, he knows. He’s going to have to prove himself in the minors again to rebuild his career.
Realistically, Meredith’s career could be in jeopardy, but he’s ready to face it. If doesn’t work out, he says he’s been smart with his money and will turn his attention to finishing his college degree and becoming a firefighter.
“It’s frightening,” he admitted. “The one thing I can say is, honestly, I was prepared for this from the moment I signed my first contract. I always knew, hey, things are good now, but it might not always be. So, I tried to live it up to the best I could emotionally, athletically, but I also tried to make smart decisions planning for the future, so that when that day came it wouldn’t be as big of a transition.”