What do you do when you’ve spent the first 16 years of your life perfecting something, and then an injury takes away your ability to use what you’ve learned just when it was about to start paying off?
Do you teach your craft to others? Give up and move on entirely?
How about spending the next few years of your life learning a completely different skill-set so you can continue doing what you love?
When shoulder labrum surgery jeopardized Nick Senior’s baseball career before it truly began, that’s exactly what he did.
The former White Rock Tritons lefty was a good pitching prospect in high school before the injury to his throwing shoulder during his Grade 11 year – so good that more than a year into recovery from often-career-ending surgery, UBC head coach Terry McKaig was willing to take a chance on him.
After U.S. colleges passed on Senior because he missed most of his final two secondary seasons, McKaig recruited the six-foot-two Surrey native to Canada’s top university baseball program in 2009.
“We actually recruited him thinking pitcher first, outfielder second,” McKaig said of Senior, who began reinventing himself as a hitter shortly after the injury. “But when it became clear his arm wasn’t rebounding well from his surgery, we started to focus on making him a position player.”
Senior knew pitching was unlikely to be in his future long before donning a UBC Thunderbirds uniform. A torn labrum is often a career-killer, and for good reason.
There is a long list of pros struggling through multi-year recoveries from labrum surgery, including UBC’s most famous baseball alumnus, Jeff Francis – now a member of the Kansas City Royals – and fellow Canadian Erik Bedard of the Seattle Mariners.
“When I knew I was getting the surgery, I started gearing up for the idea that I wasn’t going to get to pitch anymore, so I started focusing on hitting from then on,” he said.
And hit he has. Senior was used sparingly in his rookie year at UBC, appearing in less than half the team’s games en route to a respectable .273 batting average.
But in the early weeks of conference play in his second year with the T-Birds, he is making his presence felt by the opposition.
In five conference games, he leads the team with a .412 average, two home runs and seven RBI. Two weekends ago, he helped his T-Birds take two of three games from league powerhouse Lewis Clark State College, smacking a double and a triple in Game 2 of the series.
“I’m starting to feel comfortable, get some confidence and hit my stride,” he told Peace Arch News last week.
McKaig says it wasn’t necessarily in the cards for Senior to be playing such a big role on the team so soon, but the potential he showed in limited opportunities was undeniable.
“We didn’t plan on using him much last year but he was one of those kids, even in practices and intersquad games, that just keeps getting better and better,” said McKaig.
“He got physically bigger, too, thanks to his work in the weight room, so we saw things we liked and wanted to give him the chance this year.”
Senior hopes to parlay that chance into a pro career, though both he and his coach acknowledge he still has much to improve upon.
“On certain days, he can get hot and go on a tear. But then on other days, he’s 0-for-whatever and struggling,” said McKaig.
“Sometimes he struggles with what it takes to bring it every day at this level, but that’s part of a young player’s growth and I think he’s got a great future with us.”
But regardless of what happens on the field, Senior said the experience has been a rewarding one.
“It’s been pretty hard going through all that adversity, and I think going through that stuff has made me a stronger player and also a stronger person overall.”