Tom Melenchuk is a power hitter.
Hitting home runs – and hitting some of them distances the average player can only dream of – is what he does.
But since late last season, his power has been limited due to an elbow injury. The 18-year-old first baseman has played just eight games for the White Rock Tritons this season, and has yet to play in the field – he’s served solely as a designated hitter.
And though he can still swing the bat, his usual power isn’t there. In fact, there have been occasions where Melenchuk has struggled even with daily tasks.
“There have been a few times where I’d come home from the ballpark and I’d go to lift up a glass of water, and my arm would start to shake and it would be really painful,” the Earl Marriott Secondary student explained. “Having a sore arm is one thing, but this was so much worse. It’s been frustrating.”
Melenchuk – who is in his last season in the BC Premier Baseball League and is eyeing scholarship offers south of the border – has had elbow problems since midway through last season. He still managed five home runs – and his batting-practice dingers still routinely landed in the parking lot at South Surrey Athletic Park – but as the season progressed, the pain got worse.
“I just can’t get full extension on my swing, and if I throw the ball, I can make five, or 10, or 20 throws, but then after that it hurts too much, and then I can’t hit, either,” he said. “It’s a real struggle.”
It’s been difficult to watch the slugger battle through the injury.
“I know he wants to be out there contributing, and when he’s out there, he gives it all he’s got, but it’s been tough for him, and being a guy who went through a lot of injuries in college, I know what it’s like,” said coach Russ Smithson, whose career at University of Kentucky was cut short due to a hip injury.
Melenchuk’s frustrations may be coming to an end, however. After getting “second, third, and fourth” opinions from doctors, Melenchuk was diagnosed with an osteochondral defect in his right elbow. Essentially, the cartilage in his elbow has worn thin and weak – a result of years of playing baseball and training.
There are two potential surgeries that can fix the problem – one covered by BC Medical, the other not, as it’s deemed elective – but only the latter surgery will leave his elbow strong enough to continue his baseball career.
The first procedure would shave down the bone in Melenchuk’s elbow, and remove damaged cartilage, “so you can just go about your daily life pain free.”
The second – which Melenchuk said has never been done in B.C. – would involve donor tissue being transplanted into the injured elbow, making it stronger.
“It’s the only option for me if I want to continue playing,” he said.
The trouble, of course, is that without medical coverage, the surgery will cost $12,000.
It’s why Melenchuk’s family has started a GoFundMe account to help cover the costs. In just a week, it’s raised more than $4,100 so far.
“I’m overwhelmed, I really am. The response – from teammates, from family, friends, friends of friends – has just been awesome.”
If all goes well, Melenchuk said he’s aiming for surgery this month. Then, there’s two months of rest and rehab before he can return to his training and baseball activities.
“There’s a few schools I’m looking at. I’ll have a lot of catching up to do after the surgery, but I’m very motivated.”