116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Mason Behn is back.
And, the Cedar Rapids Kennedy junior right-hander feels better than ever.
Less than a year after undergoing surgery to his throwing elbow and months of rehabilitation, Behn is ready to start the Cougars’ season opener against Mount Vernon in the quarterfinals of the Bob Vrbicek Metro baseball tournament Monday at Prospect Meadows. First round games begin at 4:30 p.m. with the semifinals at 7.
“I’m throwing harder now (and) consistently throwing harder,” Behn said. “I think my command is better than ever. I had a lot of time not throwing just to work on mechanics and moving well. That helped. Everything else is really good. I’m ready to play.”
Behn has overcome one of his biggest challenges, recovering from a torn ligament suffered late last season. In the first inning of a start against Cedar Rapids Prairie, Behn felt a pop in his right elbow. He tried to fight through the discomfort but was removed after a couple more pitches.
The next day an MRI revealed a tear that needed to be surgically repaired. Behn remained with the Cougars, serving as a designated hitter. He was determined to try to help the team anyway he could, even though he couldn’t pitch or play defense.
“It was tough at the end of the season having to watch from the bench,” Behn said. “I definitely respect it a lot more. I’m really appreciative of how it is going now.”
Dr. Brian Wolf, a specialist at UIHC, conducted Behn’s procedure on Aug. 6. Luckily, it wasn’t the complete Tommy John surgery.
“They didn’t have to replace it (ligament),” Behn said. “It was just a repair. A little bit better of a deal.”
Recovery continued with physical therapist Kevin Lux. Behn praised both for their efforts, allowing him to start light throwing eight weeks after surgery.
“I’ve never had any arm issues before the end of last season,” Behn said. “It was tough at first. There were tough moments that come, too, but you get over it. You have good people on your side it helps.”
The comeback was complete when Behn started a spring game in March. He threw just 20 pitches, but he proved he was ready.
“It was really exciting,” said Behn, admitting he was hesitant to throw his hardest but that subsided after his first few pitches. “... I had no pain or anything. I felt really strong, really good. It was great.”
Behn’s work ethic has been the key factor in his return. Kennedy Coach Bret Hoyer isn’t surprised by the results.
“I don’t know if I can count on one hand the number of people that have outworked him,” Hoyer said. “It’s hard to say. He’s arguably put in more time in the offseason than anybody I’ve coached. If he’s not No. 1, he’s certainly in the conversation for No. 1.”
Behn and Hoyer have witnessed the increased power. The 6-foot, 190-pounder is consistently throwing in the upper 80s now. He worked with pitcher Austin Miller, who played at Iowa City West, Kirkwood and Mississippi. His breaking balls have improved as well.
“For him to be mid- to upper-80s for velocity after that surgery is really crazy,” Hoyer said. “If that translates to getting people out or not remains to be seen. At least he’s got some tools there and velocity he’s developed through his hard work is remarkable.”
Hoyer confirmed Behn will start the season opener. Hoyer said he will consider a pitch count as a precaution, but one isn’t necessary.
Kennedy went 14-6 overall last summer. Behn was 1-1, but also had three no-decisions, opening the season with a no-hitter against Cedar Rapids Washington. He struck out 18 batters in just 14 innings during the shortened season.
“I’m just trying to take it one game at a time and pitch the best that I can,” Behn said about this season. “We’ve got a really good team this year. It’s going to be fun.”
Behn will make an impact in multiple areas. He plays third base and hits high in the Kennedy lineup. He batted .339 with a .458 on-base percentage, tallying nine doubles, two home runs and 22 RBIs.
"He really thoroughly enjoys the game, practicing, preparing and improving himself,“ Hoyer said. “He’s an outlier when it comes to practice and developing his skill set. He put himself in position to have the opportunity to have a real solid year.”