CEDAR RAPIDS — Opening day in baseball is special.
Yeah, it’s only one of 162 games at the major-league level. It’s one of 140 in the minors.
But virtually everyone gets geeked up for the start of the season. No one more so this year than Joe Record of the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
It has been almost two years since the relief pitcher was in a game that counted for something. He has yet to officially pitch professionally despite being drafted by the parent Minnesota Twins in the 28th round in 2017.
“I’m sure these guys are all very excited,” Record said, pointing to his teammates in the Veterans Memorial Stadium home clubhouse. “But I have two years of excitement that’s been pent up.”
Record, 24, injured his right elbow his redshirt junior season at California-Santa Barbara. He tried to pitch through it, tried a platelet rich plasma non-surgical treatment that failed to work.
But he ended up getting into only three games.
“A month before the draft, I told all the teams, I wanted to be open and let them know that if they drafted me, I needed surgery,” Record said. “So some teams were like ‘Ah, we’re out,’ which was hard to take. At first, it kind of hurt. But some teams were like ‘We’re still looking at you. There’s definitely an opportunity.’ I’m very grateful to the Twins for taking a chance on me.”
Record got Tommy John surgery in August 2017 by Southern California doctor Neil Elattrache, who has performed the procedure regularly on many baseball players. Elattrache, it was announced Tuesday, will do TJ on Cincinnati Reds uber-prospect Hunter Greene, who has been diagnosed with a torn collateral elbow ligament.
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“If you have to get Tommy John surgery, you might as well get it from someone who does 100 in a year,” Record said.
Things progressed for the right-hander to the point in June 2018 that he was about to get back onto the mound, but then there was another medical setback. Doing conditioning work at the Twins’ minor-league complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Record slipped on wet grass and twisted his right knee.
The diagnosis was a sprained medial collateral ligament, and it cost him the rest of the season. He still hadn’t pitched in a pro game.
Rehabbed and recovered physically and mentally, Record went to spring training and showed off good velocity that reached the mid-90s. The first live hitter he faced in two years turned out to be Kernels teammate Chris Williams in an intrasquad game.
“I think I got him 0-2, and I was like ‘Hell, yeah. I’m about to strike him out,’” Record said, with a laugh. “I got a little pumped up, threw a fastball up and in and grazed his shoulder. Not quite so good of a start. But I felt very comfortable on the mound, obviously, very excited, a little jumpy and angsty. Once I got settled down, over the next few outings, I was very comfortable.”
A starter some in college, he’ll be a reliever at the start of the season for Cedar Rapids, which opens Thursday night at home against Peoria.
“He’s got some good stuff, man,” said Kernels catcher David Banuelos. “He’s working, been a couple of years since he’s been in an actual game. Meeting him last year when he was still kind of rehabbing, to watching him barely start his throwing program, to watching him throw pens and then start throwing (in games) for spring training, it was a night-and-day difference. It was awesome to see that progression that he had. I’m excited to see what he’s got. He’s got good stuff.”
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