For a baseball pitcher, the words “Tommy John surgery” can be a heavy burden.
This summer, two former Crystal Lake South teammates – Jacob Bimbi and Nick Vollmert – are gaining confidence and racking up victories in the Midwest Collegiate League after both going through the surgery.
On Tuesday, Bimbi (Northwest Indiana Oilmen) and the East All-Stars outlasted Vollmert (Joliet Generals) and the West All-Stars, 11-7 in Whiting, Ind., in a game that both pitchers posted scoreless outings.
That might have seemed unlikely after Bimbi had the surgery in July 2020 and Vollmert in April 2019.
“When you’ve had it, you’re kind of in this small little brotherhood,” Bimbi said. “It’s nice to have somebody close to you that you can lean on with questions or for a little encouragement.”
For Bimbi, that person was Vollmert, who lost his senior season in high school to the injury, rehabbed for a year and Oakton Community College and pitched 15 2/3 innings over five appearances this spring at McHenry County College.
“I was honestly heartbroken when I found out (about Jacob),” Vollmert said. “He loves the game so much. I told him, ‘You’re going to hit a couple of rough patches. But any time you hit those rough patches, I want you to reach out to me because I’ve been through it.’”
Bimbi credits Vollmert with being a valuable sounding board for questions and concerns.
Another Crystal Lake South graduate, former MLB pitcher Ian Gardeck, provided the same support for Vollmert a year earlier.
“He reached out to me and we talked for a half hour,” Vollmert said. “He talked me through it. We would also text back and forth. He gave me a couple of books about mental toughness. That was awesome having him there for me, and it was awesome for me to be there for Jacob Bimbi.”
Bimbi, a 6-foot left-hander, posted a 4-1 record as a starting pitcher with a 1.10 ERA and 31 strikeouts in the first half for the Oilmen. His goal before heading back for his second season at Wabash Valley College in southern Illinois is to throw more first-pitch strikes and consistently command all four of his pitches – fastball, curveball, changeup and slider.
“This is the first time in a year that I’m actually able to compete against other batters,” Bimbi said. “It’s really great to know the arm is back to feeling great.”
The 6-foot-6 Vollmert, a right-hander, is 2-0 as a starter for Joliet with a 4.07 ERA and a 21-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Before he heads to NAIA St. Ambrose University in Iowa this fall, where he will be a sophomore athletically, Vollmert is working on developing a slider to go with his repertoire of fastball, curveball and changeup, which he calls his “money pitch.”
“I wanted to have that mound presence where I felt comfortable and like I was in control of the game,” he said. “That was big in the first half.”
Off to Manhattan: Huntley grad Jeff Heinrich announced via Twitter last week that he is transferring from the University of South Carolina and will continue his baseball career at Kansas State.
Heinrich, who began his college career at McHenry County College, batted .231 over the last two seasons with 24 RBIs for the Gamecocks while playing in 44 games as an infielder.
· Barry Bottino writes about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.