With arm surgeries behind him, Fox Chapel’s Gruden again playing at high level

Tuesday, April 9, 2019 | 6:10 PM

A year ago at this time, every one of Jacob Gruden’s throws ended the same way: with the ball going straight down to the ground. He wondered if the same was happening to his once-promising baseball career.

A major shoulder injury caused Gruden to go through two surgeries, months of painful rehab — both physical and emotional — and cost him his entire junior season at Fox Chapel.

Gruden wondered if he would ever play baseball at a high level again. A year later, he’s doing just that for Fox Chapel, ranking as one of the Foxes’ leading hitters early in the season.

“At that point, everything was starting to go through my mind,” Gruden said. “Will I ever be able to throw again?”

“It feels awesome to be back with my good friends again and just be a teammate. I was on the team last year, but it obviously wasn’t the same. It’s just great to be back.”

The troubles began during the winter of Gruden’s sophomore year, when he started feeling shoulder pain. He visited a doctor at the time but didn’t get an MRI, playing through the spring season for Fox Chapel and the summer for his AAU baseball team.

“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t really think anything that bad,” Gruden said. “I was pitching all summer, and I was pitching pretty well. It would just be like the next three or four days, I couldn’t move my arm.

“It wasn’t one of those things where I could pitch on a Friday and go back and play the field the next day. I couldn’t throw the next day. I could, but it was just very painful.”

Ultimately, Gruden visited Dr. James Bradley, the head orthopedic surgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and received a diagnosis of a torn labrum. He had surgery in September 2017, then began rehabilitation shortly after.

It wasn’t until Gruden began attempting to throw, in February 2018, that he noticed something was amiss.

“My strength was good, my motion was good and everything was fine,” Gruden said. “I started throwing the first day, and everything was going into the ground. I got the yips. I couldn’t throw a baseball if my life depended on it. Everything was just going straight to the ground. It was like I never even saw a baseball before.

“I was in shock. I didn’t know what was wrong, and I couldn’t do anything. I was getting pain when I was throwing. It was like 100 balls straight into the ground.”

It took until late May for Gruden to feel comfortable throwing again; he worked with Ryan Flanagan and Frank Merigliano, the instructors for his Diamond Dawgs AAU team.

But even after a full summer playing for the Diamond Dawgs, Gruden still felt pain when he threw. Another MRI revealed another injury — a tear in the AC joint of his shoulder — and Gruden had another surgery. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Patrick DeMeo cleared up the scar tissue from Gruden’s first surgery.

The second surgery seems to have cleared up Gruden’s problems: He pronounced himself “a lot better.”

It’s showing on the field, too. Although the injury sapped Gruden’s pitching ability — he was receiving some college interest as a pitcher before everything happened — he now is playing second base and center field.

Gruden leads Fox Chapel (4-1, 2-1) in hitting, batting .533 with three doubles, three RBIs and a team-high seven runs scored through Monday’s 11-1 victory over Woodland Hills. He began the season in the No. 9 spot of the Foxes’ lineup, but his success prompted coach Jim Hastings to move him to second.

“It’s great to see because he’s a great kid who worked really hard, and we’re really proud of what he’s done so far,” Hastings said. ” … He’s driving the ball. Even the times he’s gotten out, he’s hitting the ball on the nose.”

Hastings, in his second season at Fox Chapel, never saw Gruden play in a game until this season. He’s glad to see the senior on the field now.

Count Gruden happy to be back, too.

“I’ve always loved baseball — I loved it even when I was out,” Gruden said. “I loved watching our team play.

“But being back … there’s nothing like playing baseball.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .


More Baseball

Elizabeth Forward grad Luke Padezan takes reins as Gateway’s new baseball coach
After more than 3 decades as an assistant, new coach takes reins of Chartiers Valley baseball
Wild Things Park to host WPIAL baseball finals through 2027
Hempfield’s Dylan Firmstone commits to Penn State baseball
Penn-Trafford baseball making strides in offseason, wins fall league title