CEDAR RAPIDS — One Cedar Rapids Washington supporter referred to Rimmy Nemickas as "Sandman."
The left-handed pitcher put a few teams’ rallies to sleep last season, earning saves in each of the Warriors’ five postseason victories that led to the Class 4A state runner-up finish.
Somewhat of a dream season came to an end and a nightmare began for the University of Iowa recruit.
“I pitched all six (postseason) games,” Nemickas said. “I really didn’t think much of it. I’d just go out there and throw 15 balls as hard as I can to save the team, rest and do the same thing the next game.
“After the tournament ended, I was like ‘Wow, my arm feels like it’s going to give out pouring a glass of milk. I can’t imagine throwing a baseball again.’”
Nemickas underwent Tommy John surgery to repair an elbow ligament in the offseason. He hasn’t returned to his role on the mound or in the outfield, but the Warriors are happy to have him in the lineup as a designated hitter.
“It’s big to have him in the lineup,” Brune said. “He’s a leader. He brings a lot of energy and kind of pushes the other kids to be better every day.”
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Nemickas was a reliable and effective closer in Washington’s late run. He appeared in all three substate games and three state contests, throwing 141 pitches in nine innings over the final two weeks. He went from shutdown pitcher to a pitcher about to get shut down.
His elbow was so weak and painful it impacted normally easy daily tasks.
“Not being able to lift up your puppy, for God’s sake,” Nemickas said. “Day by day things you take for granted.”
College coaches suggested physical therapy. The situation didn’t improve, so the family considered surgery. Nemickas said his father consulted some friends, including former major-league pitcher Cal Eldred. He said he was introduced with a Major League Baseball team doctor that performed the procedure on Dec. 4. Fortunately for Nemickas, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
“He said we’re going to open up your arm,” Nemickas said. “He said this could either be 18 months on the bench or five months, depending on what I see. We just went for it.
“Turns out I got the partial surgery. ... I wanted to get up and hug the man. I was filled with life after that.”
Nemickas has rehabbed diligently, taking small steps at a time. He spent time taking cuts off a tee, progressing to soft toss cuts at half-speed. He started throwing four weeks ago, making about 75 90-foot throws every other day.
“It was a long process,” Nemickas said. “I have an agenda of things to do every day, and the day I was cleared to hit I felt more life, not just from me but from the team.”
Time off has led to appreciation to what he was able to do with ease. Nemickas understands the mental strain and the hard work pitchers put in to perform at a high level. He even watches the game differently now.
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“I had a rubber arm,” Nemickas said. “I just love throwing, but you don’t really think about it when they take it away from you.
“It may not seem like much but man, am I trying to get it there. Each session it gets better and better. It’s starting to feel great.”
The goal is for Nemickas to move to first base in about a week and then back to outfield in two. Until then, he will keep contributing at the plate. Nemickas owned a .500 batting average and a team-high six RBIs before Thursday’s doubleheader against Cedar Rapids Jefferson. He had six hits, including two triples and a double.
“All my teammates watch me go up and they go crazy,” Nemickas said. “They know I have one job on the team. I have to get it done at the plate because I can’t go on the field.”
Nemickas could return to the mound by the end of the season. If progress continues, he could be ready to pitch in July. Brune said they will use caution, bringing him back if he feels good and strong and it doesn’t jeopardize his future.
“I think we have a lot of competitors that go out and do a nice job on the mound,” Brune said. “We’ve had some underclassmen who have stepped up and threw some innings for us and we have a lot of senior leaders who have been throwing well do far. Hopefully, that keeps going for us.”
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