North Kingstown, Old Dominion University’s Henry Hersum – A Baseball Journey Back To The Mound

Henry Hersum is a Rhode Island baseball player I have followed and written about for a few years now. Henry played for Wickford Little League with my oldest son and I have stayed in contact with the Hersum family over the years via email and social media. He actually used to umpire my Junior Little League games as well (and did a very good job calling balls and strikes). The tall right handed Pitcher, North Kingstown native, and Prout High School standout has risen to national recognition and prowess, signing to pitch for NCAA Division 1 Powerhouse Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. Hersum is definitely on the radar of Major League Baseball Scouts and his size, fastball, and overall presence has put him in the mix for a potential career in professional baseball. Henry is a great local story that I will continue to follow up on for numerous reasons.

I follow Old Dominion University Baseball on social media and waited all Spring to see Henry’s name announced in a game. Interestingly enough, Bryant University visited ODU this Spring and I mentioned Henry to Waves President and GM Eric Hirschbein-Bodnar (also a Coach with Bryant Baseball) as a player to check out while Bryant was in Norfolk. The two (Eric and Henry) did meet up through mutual acquaintances and there was some talk about Henry pitching for the Waves this summer. Both shared this news with me, although it wasn’t official, so I did not post it.

Fast forward to April 6th – Henry Hersum gets into a game vs East Carolina University. Pitches to 2 batters and records 2 outs. Then, against University of Virginia another great outing – 1IP, 4 batters faced, no hits, no runs. And then Waves talk was getting a bit louder behind the scenes. Henry’s family was excited for him to pitch in front of family and friends back here in Rhode Island for the summer. The Waves were excited to bring in this top tier pitcher for the summer. I kept an eye on the ODU social media pages for Henry’s next outing, and waited, and waited.

I didn’t want to read too far into the gaps in outings so I waited patiently for the next bit of news on Henry’s season. And the next steps in his summer collegiate move to the Waves, potentially. Weeks went by with no updates or outings. Unfortunately, one afternoon, I did read on social media, through a family’s post, that Henry would be visiting a medial specialist and that his season was over and to stay tuned. I reached out to the family and Henry, who confirmed that Henry would need to undergo Tommy John Surgery for a torn UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) and I wished Henry and his family well.

I spoke to Henry and the family post visit, post diagnosis, and post surgery and asked Henry if he would like to document his journey. As a baseball fan, I was curious about the journey from Rhode Island to ODU and the emotions of pitching in that first college baseball game. And as a fan of Henry, I was interested to hear how the events of his pitching, then injury, then diagnosis and surgery went down and wanted to Henry to tell the story. Henry has agreed to stay in contact with me throughout his recovery and road back to the mound and to document his journey, so I can share it with you the Rhode Island Baseball Community. So, here is the first installment of my chats with Henry on his road to recovery in my series called “Henry Hersum, A Baseball Journey Back to The Mound”:

RIBBE: So, I wanted to start with your recollections of the 2022 season.  You were coming back from an elbow situation, I believe, and had made enough progress to start a throwing program.  And get into an ODU game (or two).  Talk to me about this journey first, getting back on the mound after being down this fall. 

Henry: Last year (March 2021) I had to shut down throwing from elbow pain that was too painful to attempt to throw through, and I got elbow arthroscopy to remove a bone spur in my elbow. While rehabbing at Hops Athletic Performance with Matt Hopkins, and John DeRouin, my arm had never felt better and that continued through the summer. A few bullpens into the fall at ODU, I felt the same elbow pain I had the previous spring, and shut it down for a week, and tried to resume throwing again only to experience sharp shoulder pain, and shut down throwing for the foreseeable future. MRIs on my elbow and shoulder came back clean with no structural damage, and I was diagnosed with shoulder impingement.

RIBBE: How did that feel being on that mound after rehabbing and working hard to get there?

Henry: I did about 2-3 months of physical therapy, and resumed throwing in the start of December. At the time I knew I would not be able to follow a throwing program that would allow me to be ready for the start of the season, so we took the throwing back to the mound very cautiously and as long as needed. I knew I wanted to pitch this spring, that was my goal, so I did everything in my power to put the work in, while also not doing too much to make sure that happened. About 2 months of bullpens later, my arm was feeling great, and I faced live batters for the first time in over a year. I did well and was back into the low to mid 90s on my fastball. I felt like I was back to my old self on the mound and there’s no feeling that beats throwing a ball to the catcher and striking somebody out.

However, that was the last day where I could say my arm felt normal and great. After that, I made it through another week of live at bats, and was waiting for my name to get called into a game. My arm never hurt but something just never felt right and I felt like the shoulder issue in the fall had came back, but it wasn’t as bad. The physical therapist I had been working with through the past couple of months would check for any signs of a structural issue, but everything was in tact, and there were no problems we could find other than the shoulder impingement. I just knew something wasn’t right when the ball was in my hand.

RIBBE: And your first outing of the season, how did that go, what were the emotions in that game?

Henry: I ended up making my collegiate debut at East Carolina with a packed crowd, and electric environment, it was awesome, and something I will never forget. My velocity was down and I didn’t have my usual command, but I faced 2 batters and got 2 flyouts. My arm would feel dead for a few days, but there was nothing where I was feeling that said I need to stop throwing like I had the previous spring, but something just didn’t feel right. I just wanted to pitch and contribute to help my team win because I knew I could, and continued to put the work in to do so.

RIBBE: Can you describe, if you can, the circumstances around the injury to your UCL.  Do you recall when it happened?  Was it an acute situation like a pop or rip when you threw or was it something lingering that you had for a few days, weeks?

Henry: Another week went by and I made another appearance against Virginia where I got all 4 batters I faced out, with my arm feeling much better although my velocity was still down. Another week or two went by, and I was slated to be in the bullpen against Virginia at Harbor Park. On this day, our game would be canceled due to predicted weather, and we did live at bats intersquad at ODU. My arm had definitely felt the best it had since that first time I faced live hitters. Once I got on the mound I felt that same feeling of something not being right, but I wasn’t in pain, and any test any doctor could do on my arm to check for anything wrong had been done basically every week and before every time I pitched. I really couldn’t of been any more cautious and careful.

I started off the intersquad with my velocity down and command off, and after a few batters I tried throwing harder by using my back leg, which led to me throwing harder and getting my command back, and getting guys out. On the last batter of the day on an 0-2 fastball, I threw it in the dirt and felt something weird in my elbow, like a flick but I wasn’t in pain or anything. The very next pitch as I released my fastball, I felt a pop in my elbow, almost as if something had just exploded inside my elbow and I went to the ground, not able to straighten or bend my arm. I knew what had happened. I was pretty devastated realizing I would be done pitching for the foreseeable future. A few days later I got an mri done, and got the results later that week to confirm, I had a “complete mid substance tear” in my UCL, and would need Tommy John surgery. For the week after I felt the pop, I couldn’t bend or straighten my arm much at all, and really couldn’t use my arm for anything. The worst part was knowing that for the past several months I had spent doing everything I could to pitch this year, and stay healthy, and it wasn’t enough.

RIBBE: What are your thoughts now as you look back on the season, the injury, the surgery, and the road ahead?

Henry: That was my initial thought process, but a better way to think about it was being satisfied that I did everything I could, and did not have any regrets about not doing everything I could. I was obviously frustrated but I came to accept what had happened and didn’t need to keep having the thoughts of “I should’ve done this, or I could’ve done that”. It was out of my control. With the help of my advisor, I was fortunate to get into see Dr Andrews at Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and get my surgery scheduled about 3-4 weeks after I had the incident occur. While at Andrews Institute I learned that it’s very typical for guys with bone spurs to tear their UCLs and in my case it was just a matter of time.  Now, I am about 5 weeks post op, and have started physical therapy and am on my way to coming back.

Huge thanks to the Pitcher known to many as “Big Hen” Henry Hersum of Old Dominion University. His recovery is in works, his attitude is positive, his talent is still so incredible. Stay tuned throughout the process of recovery for Henry and join me in following his journey back to the mound!

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