All in the wrist

Pollock uses mental positivity to overcome physical injury

By TOM DINKI
On February 13, 2014

  • Senior outfielder Matt Pollock broke his wrist and tore a tendon taking batting practice before the baseball team’s first game last season. He received a medical redshirt and will return to the outfield for Buffalo on Saturday. Chad Cooper, The Spectrum

Matt Pollock stepped up to the plate 221 times in 2012. 

It took him 221 at bats to smash 12 homeruns, 18 doubles and 44 RBIs. He etched his name into the baseball team's record book and made himself known to not only UB and the Mid-American Conference, but also across the nation.

It was one ill-fated swing in 2013, however, that would suspend his athletic career.

Pollock tore his flexor carpi ulnaris (FCU) tendon in batting practice before the first game of his senior season in 2013. He missed almost the entire season - a year in which the Bulls had unprecedented success, winning the most games in program history.

Pollock, a senior outfielder, is returning for his final season after a medical redshirt in 2013. He is aiming to return to the level of play he demonstrated in 2012 and to help the Bulls enjoy the same level of success they had last season without him. The road back has been physically and mentally challenging for Pollock. He is just now beginning to learn to trust his swing again and not let doubts affect his drive to return to the player he was before the injury.       

Pollock was a force in the Bulls' lineup in 2012. His junior season was one of the best in school history - finishing top-10 in homeruns, runs scored, RBIs, hits and doubles in single season. He ranked in the top-30 nationally in slugging percentage and runs scored per game.

Before his senior season began in 2013, Pollock had pain in his left wrist from tendentious. He fought through the pain and went through batting practice before the Bulls' season opener against North Carolina A&T.

"I took a bad swing, and the next thing you know my hand was just completely swollen," Pollock said.

He played in three games but could barely hold onto the bat. An MRI exam revealed he had fractured the hamate bone in his hand. Pollock needed a small procedure on the bone that would keep him out for several weeks.

But when Pollock awoke from surgery, he learned he would miss more than just a few weeks.

During surgery, doctors discovered Pollock also tore the FCU tendon in his left wrist - a much more significant injury. He required another surgery and would miss the entire season.

As soon as he got the news, he called his mother, Donna Pollock.

"I felt so bad for him because I knew that it was his big senior year," Donna said. "He went in for a supposed simple procedure and it turned out to be a lot worse than they originally thought. He was pretty down about it."

He couldn't challenge for the MAC Player of the Year award, break more single-season records and go out with the rest of his senior class in 2013.

Pollock could not even travel with the team. With his friends across the country competing, Pollock spent his weekends sitting at home and following the team online, checking live stats and reading up on the games.

"It was like the carpet was pulled out from under my feet and I lost all my friends," Pollock said. "I was at home and they're all out playing and having fun."

Pollock's wrist movement is somewhat restricted and he still feels some lingering pain. He wears two braces on his left hand, which conceal a four-inch-long scar from the surgery.

During winter practices, he had to learn to trust his movements again and not let the fear of re-injury hold him back at the plate.

"When you're coming back from a physical injury, you always second guess your movements," Pollock said. "You kind of have to start over from scratch and learn to be comfortable with yourself again."

The injury was as taxing on Pollock mentally as it was physically. Being away from his friends and having doubts about returning from the injury took a toll on him.

"Sure, it was a physical injury, but you don't really realize how hard it is to come back from an injury mentally," Pollock said. "I was really down on myself. I was in a pretty rough place for a while."

Pollock believes the key for him is to stay positive and not let doubts about his ability creep into his head. Those thoughts have hindered him before, but with his final season about to begin, Pollock believes he has finally overcome them.

"That's definitely worried me in the past and it's been a big culprit of my negative thoughts," Pollock said. "I've tried to vanquish all those thoughts so I'm best mentally prepared as I can be."

Pollock has demonstrated resolve throughout his baseball career. Donna called her son "persistent" and said if he wants something, he goes after it.

At age 5, Pollock began playing backyard baseball with his two older brothers, Brian and Nick, in Sagamore Hills, Ohio. He was forced to elevate his play due to playing with kids older than himself. By the time he was 8, he was playing on the 10-year-olds' team.

"When the older boys would play travel baseball, Matt would go fill in," Donna said. "When they needed somebody, he was always ready to go. He didn't care that he was two years younger."

Pollock's success can be attributed to his work ethic. He dedicates his time to working out in the weight room to improve his game. He encourages his teammates to do the same.

"In the weight room, he's one of the strongest guys," said head coach Ron Torgalski. "He's had a real good impact on younger guys. They see his work within the weight room and how it has translated into success on the field."

The Bulls finished 33-24 last season, including a 19-7 record in the MAC. Pollock did not find it hard to watch his team do well - what was hard was not being able to be part of it.

One of the biggest reasons for the Bulls' success was a senior class of offensive stars including outfielder and 2013 MAC Player of the Year Jason Kanzler, infielder Jon Mestas and first baseman Alex Baldock. Torgalski and the players have cited Pollock's return as making up for the loss of last year's seniors. But Pollock is not necessarily looking to replace those players.

"I don't think you can really replace them and how they contribute to the team, but I think I can contribute in my own way," Pollock said. "Everyone contributes in a different way, and I hope to bring something special to the team this year like I have in the past."

Pollock's favorite part about returning to baseball has been being able to be around his teammates again. His teammates called Pollock a "goofball" and said he is always cracking jokes. They also described him as "sociable" and said he has many friends both on and off the team.

Pollock has goals beyond his senior season. He hopes to be drafted by an MLB team. He said he and his teammates know the best way to get recognition from professional teams is to have a successful season. But he understands the team goal of winning a championship has to come first in order for that to happen.

"I think a lot of the guys on the team have bought into this idea that the better the team does, the more exposure we're going to get from scouts," Pollock said."If we make it to regionals, we will be in front of so many scouts that everyone's individual and team goals will all be met. But everyone has to buy into the team goal first."

When Pollock steps up to the plate this season, he knows he's just one swing away from losing baseball again. He won't let that faze him.

And when he gets ready to take that first swing at a fastball down the middle, he'll turn his mind off and let his wrist do all the work.

 

email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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