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  Thu, July 29, 2004


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OTTAWA LYNX




Wyoming pitcher has arm surgery
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

Many believed the arm was indestructible.

Over the next year, they'll find out if it's reconstructible.

Wyoming's Brett Gray, former London Werewolves pitcher, underwent arm surgery two weeks after hurting it in a start with the Schaumberg Flyers of the Northern League. He tore a tendon in his pitching arm.

Gray, 27, was in the Cincinnati Reds minor league system the last four seasons before being released this spring. He joined former manager Andy McCauley in Schaumberg.

Gray underwent what's called Tommy John surgery, tendon replacement surgery. It's one of the most serious operations a pitcher can have. Doctors transplanted a tendon from Gray's left wrist into his right elbow. The success rate for the type of surgery has improved over the years but the recovery period is more than a year.

While the surgery has prolonged the careers of a number of pitchers, there's no guarantee a player can come back from it.

In some cases, the surgery is so successful that a pitcher's arm actually comes back feeling stronger. In other cases, it merely allows the arm to be used without pain. But that's not good enough for a guy who wants to make his living by throwing a baseball.

"I threw a curveball in the seventh inning and felt it pop," Gray said. "I didn't throw before my next start, went out and threw an inning and had nothing. I went from 91 miles an hour to 70. I knew what was going on."

It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that Gray would go out and try to throw again. He is a battler.

But what's shocking to anyone who knows him is that he was even injured. Other than a minor shoulder problem last year, Gray has never suffered arm trouble. He eats up plenty of innings and his resilient arm has allowed him to throw a lot of pitches during a game. His toughness and durability are among his biggest attributes.

"I guess I never thought my arm could get hurt either," he said. "That's why I kept throwing."

Those who make a living in baseball know the cruel turns the game can take. The seriousness of the injury seems bad enough but somehow baseball managed to heap a little more disappointment onto the pile.

Gray was hurt one start before Greg Hamilton, general manager and coach of Canada's 2004 Olympic team, was coming to town to watch him throw. The injury occurred days before the team roster was named for the Athens Olympics.

Gray pitched for the national team when it qualified and had a chance to be named to the team.

"That was hard, really hard," he said. "Seventeen of the 24 players on the roster for the team that qualified in Panama City made the Olympic team. I think I would have had a chance."

Gray loves the game and intends to be involved for years to come. But at 27, with a full year of rehabilitation and an uncertain prognosis, are his playing days done?

"He plans to play again," said father Bruce Gray. "Right now, he's acting as a bench coach for Andy. He's bought a house in Petrolia and he'll come back this winter and work for me. It will probably be the middle of next summer before he pitches again."

That shouldn't come as much of a shock either. Gray isn't going to go out without a fight.

"It isn't over," he said. "Before I got hurt, I thought this might be it. I would pitch this year, go to the Olympics. . . . But since getting hurt, I want to pitch even more."

In fact, Bruce Gray and his son are planning to team up. The Northern League is expanding into Calgary and Edmonton for the 2005 season. Bruce intends to apply for a managing job, allowing Brett to join him.

"I can coach and rehab," Brett Gray said. "That would be just for funzies. I plan to play."