BANGOR, Maine — What has been a frustrating baseball season for Cody Collins at last has some clarity.
The Bangor Christian senior, unable to pitch most of this spring for the two-time defending Class D state champion Patriots due to a lingering elbow injury, finally has a roadmap to recovery and a continuing career on the mound.
Surgery is scheduled for June 27 — six days after this year’s state final — to repair an irritated ulna nerve, but it could have been worse.
“I’m just glad it’s not Tommy John [reconstructive] surgery,” said Collins, the 2013 Penobscot Valley Conference player of the year as a pitcher-shortstop for coach Mike Poulin’s club.
First Collins will help second-seeded Bangor Christian (15-1) in its bid to win and become the first Class D baseball team to win three consecutive state crowns since North Yarmouth Academy in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
His most significant contributions to that quest likely will involve playing second base or center field and his presence in the Patriots’ batting order. Some pitching also might be possible after he made his spring debut with an inning of work last Saturday against Katahdin of Stacyville followed by two innings Wednesday during a regular season-ending victory over Penobscot Valley of Howland.
“The doctor said that with this injury I can’t do any further damage to the nerve,” Collins, a two-year captain for the Patriots, said. “It’s basically a matter of pain tolerance.
“Obviously there was a lot of rust jumping back into pitching. It felt good during my outings but stiffened up pretty quickly afterward,” he added. “Hopefully I can contribute some innings in the playoffs.”
Two days after undergoing surgery in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Collins will begin a six- to eight-month rehabilitation process that involves no throwing for at least three months.
He’ll begin that rehab in Maine, then continue this fall at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix, where he has accepted a partial athletic scholarship to continue his baseball career under former University of Maine and major league baseball star Billy Swift, the South Portland native who recently concluded his first season as the Firestorm’s head coach.
“The doctor thought that by February break of next year it should be back to 100 percent,” said Collins, who was set to graduate from Bangor Christian on Friday evening as class salutatorian and a four-year class president. “That’s the goal anyway.”
The relationship between Swift and Collins began last summer.
“I was putting information out there for colleges to take a look, and I was contacted by [the University of Southern Maine] and some other Division III schools,” Collins said.
“One day, I got an email from the coach at Arizona Christian, Billy Swift, and it happened to be the Billy Swift. We kept in contact, and I went out there for a visit in February right before our [basketball] tournament game.”
Collins, a right-hander whose fastball was clocked as high as 84 miles per hour last year, said he originally shrugged off Swift’s interest because he hoped to play at Division I Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where his father Tim pitched during the early 1990s.
But Collins began feeling what he described as a “burning sensation” in his pitching elbow last July during his final start of the 2013 American Legion baseball season for Motor City of Bangor.
Collins went on to help the Bangor Christian boys soccer team win its fifth consecutive Class D state championship and also played on the school’s basketball team, but the elbow irritation lingered. Initial testing, including a magnetic resonance imaging exam, revealed no particular injury.
Collins and his family then sought an opinion at Massachusetts General Hospital, where doctors determined the need for surgery to relieve the ulna nerve irritation.
The upcoming surgery and subsequent recovery period may delay Collins’ hope to make an immediate impact at Arizona Christian, a school of 680 students that competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, National Christian College Athletic Association and the Golden State Athletic Conference baseball ranks.
The Firestorm, which begins its regular season in January, finished 13-33 this season but advanced to the NAIA national tournament in 2012 and the NCCAA Division I World Series in 2013. Five Arizona Christian players were drafted by major league organizations from those 2012 and 2013 squads.
“He will be redshirted, probably, with his elbow surgery coming up this month,” Swift said of Collins in an email, “but he looks to be a pretty decent ballplayer all around.”
Collins is looking forward to working with Swift, a 13-year major leaguer who led the National League in earned run average (2.08) in 1992 for the San Francisco Giants and finished second in the balloting for the Cy Young Award as the NL’s top pitcher a year later when he went 21-8 with a 2.82 ERA.
“There’s so much to learn from someone like coach Swift, whether it’s developing a new pitch or pitching in key situations,” Collins said. “The more knowledge you have the better, and I can’t imagine learning from somebody better than coach Swift.”