BANGOR, Maine — Cody Collins wasn’t sure what to expect when he woke up one morning early last fall.
A day earlier, the 6-foot, 185-pound Husson University right-hander pitched for the first time after a summer spent rehabilitating his right elbow, which had proved troubling since his senior year at Bangor Christian School when Collins was a finalist for Maine’s 2014 Mr. Baseball award and led the Patriots to their third consecutive Class D state championship.
Collins underwent an ulnar nerve transposition procedure on that elbow the day the Mr. Baseball award was presented to Scarborough High School’s Ben Greenberg — even making the trip home from Boston to Bangor in time for the ceremony hopeful he’d soon be able to return to pitching prominence.
Collins spent the next two years at Arizona Christian University playing under South Portland native Billy Swift, one of the National League’s top pitchers during the early 1990s.
But lingering elbow issues short-circuited Collins’ chance to see significant pitching duty under the former University of Maine standout.
“I had a few teammates out in Arizona, while not really realizing it at the time, make remarks about why don’t you stop throwing,” he recalled. “I definitely had teammates along the way who were incredibly supportive as well, but that definitely put a little doubt in your mind.”
Collins opted to return to Maine for his junior year of college and enrolled at Husson, where he pitched just 4⅓ innings in his first year back.
“As with any injury, the big thing is getting over that hurdle mentally,” said Husson coach Jason Harvey. “When it comes to getting back into game shape as far as throwing and confidence. I think it took Cody a little longer to get through it. His arm didn’t respond as he thought it would and I think mentally it was just tough for him to get over.
Collins’ frustration peaked after the Eagles were eliminated from that year’s North Atlantic Conference tournament.
“I was more or less irritated by the fact that I wasn’t able to help the team in the capacity I hoped to because of my own injury concerns,” said Collins. “I actually finished last year with a 26-degree bend in my elbow. My elbow had retracted a little bit, and it was actually tightness in my bicep. The (elbow) nerve was tight and that caused the bicep to tighten up in order to protect the nerve.”
Collins sought off-season physical therapy in an effort to salvage his senior baseball season at Husson and began undergoing “dry needling,” an acupuncture-like treatment to relieve pressure on the arm.
“Within a week or two I had the straightness back,” Collins said. “Then we spent a few months on standard physical therapy just to build up everything around it so when I started throwing again my arm would react properly and not tighten up like it did in the past.”
The next test came at the outset of the 2017 fall baseball season
“I had heard everything my physical therapist was telling me and knew if everything went according to plan I wasn’t going to have any setbacks, but I was nervous,” he said. “I had that first outing and woke up the next morning and my arm didn’t hurt, it hadn’t retracted and I was able to move it around like I should.
“It was definitely a lot of relief and more excitement than anything else knowing that hopefully I’d be able to contribute this year. Fortunately that’s worked out so far.”
Fast forward eight months and Collins is now a key member of Husson pitching rotation this spring with a 3-1 record and 2.42 earned run average in 26 innings overall — 3-0 with four earned runs allowed in 19 innings covering three NAC starts.
“You look at what he’s gone through in the last three or four years and it’s unbelievable to see the way he has bounced back and is in good position to have a phenomenal year,” said Harvey, whose team is 7-5 in NAC play entering Friday’s doubleheader at Colby-Sawyer College of New London, New Hampshire.
“One thing he’s been looking for is an opportunity to be an impact player at some point, and you have to give him credit for his determination and ability to grind it out. He did all he could this past summer to get himself in that position and obviously this year it’s happening.”
The pivotal point of Collins’ comeback actually came before conference play, during his first start for Husson during its March trip to Florida.
Collins allowed just one run over the first five innings before getting too “fine” with his control in the bottom of the sixth as Saint Vincent College of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, reached him and the bullpen for seven runs en route to an 11-2 victory.
“At that point the mindset changed from not worrying about my elbow when I’m out there more to the execution of pitches and just trying to help the team win,” he said.
Since then Collins has emerged as the Eagles’ No. 2 starter behind Jesse Colford while continuing his physical therapy regimen.
“Cody’s a very smart pitcher and very confident in his ability. He’s got that maturity and trusts his stuff and really will throw any pitch in any count, which is a tough thing for hitters,” said Harvey.
“He’s definitely a pitcher who understands his strengths during a game so if something’s working well he uses it and the adjustments he makes are really good as far as locating pitches and mixing it up to each guy. That’s really allowed him to flourish.”
Collins is expected to make his next start Saturday when Husson visits Castleton (Vermont) University in the first of back-to-back doubleheaders against the four-time defending NAC champion.
“More than anything else, more than the win and loss record, I can’t explain how great it’s been to get back out on the mound, compete with the guys, strategize with the other pitchers and just go through the routine of playing on a regular basis,’ he said. “It’s just been a lot of fun.”
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