by Tom Pedulla –
Right-hander Jake Weintraub of Irvington seemed to have everything going for him in his pursuit of a college baseball scholarship. With a mid-80’s fastball, he had the arm strength to accompany his imposing 6-foot-7, 195-pound presence on the mound. He was equally strong academically.
A number of coaches at prominent academic institutions saw Weintraub as the complete package. They had begun recruiting him last June when the pitcher felt discomfort in his elbow, an ominous sign of an injury that would be life-changing and underscore how fragile dreams based on athletics can be.
Weintraub said he was initially diagnosed with tendinitis. He said painkillers helped him work through the problem as he participated in a series of talent showcases scrutinized by college recruiters.
“I felt very, very confident that if I could get through the next month or two healthy,” Weintraub said, “I had a very strong chance of getting what I wanted and accomplishing the goal.”
Lafayette College, which had shown considerable interest, hosted one showcase he attended. With his elbow still troubling him, his velocity dropped and his command of his pitches slipped.
It was on to a showcase in Binghamton, N.Y. Weintraub set a goal of striking out four batters in the two innings he was scheduled to work. On his second or third pitch, he felt a searing pain in his elbow. His body was telling him to stop throwing. His mind was telling him something else.
“I knew there was something really, really wrong there,” he said. “But at the same time, there are 25 college coaches in the stands with their radar guns on me. And if a potential college recruit comes out of a game with an elbow injury, that’s like a death sentence.
“I watched the radar gun readings go from 84, 85 to high 70’s and 80 and that crushed me. I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I felt with all the work I had put in and all the hours I had put into this dream, it was potentially falling apart in front of my eyes.”
He never made it past the first inning.
He soon visited Dr. David Altchek, the Mets team physician, who determined that he had suffered an injury all too common to pitchers. He had torn the ulnar collateral ligament.
“I couldn’t even fathom what was happening,” Weintraub said. “It was the worst possible timing. In the back of my head, I knew it was going to kill a lot of potential opportunities I had.”
Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the Yankees’ team physician, surgically repaired the damaged ligament last July 25, beginning an arduous rehabilitation process but allowing Weintraub to salvage his senior season at Irvington. He helped the resurgent Bulldogs advance to the second round of the playoffs and was honored as the league’s Comeback Player of the Year.
As expected, most college coaches politely explained why they felt the need to look elsewhere in their recruiting. Weintraub will attend George Washington and attempt to make that team as a walk-on.
He is pitching for the SKD (Sports KingDome) Aces in the Hudson Valley Collegiate Baseball League this summer to prepare for that challenge and enjoyed a strong start.
“He showed no tentativeness, none whatsoever,” said John Volpi, who coaches the Aces. “He challenged hitters and threw very well for us.”
As costly as his injury was, Weintraub emphasized that he grew from adversity.
“I’ve become a much, much stronger person for going through what I’ve been through,” he said. “I had the most sinister injury a pitcher could have, and I attacked that.”