For so many years, Kalab Evans appeared to be on track for his boyhood dream — to be a catcher in professional baseball.
Then one day, he was told by a doctor he would probably never throw a baseball again.
Now, more than a year after the second of two surgeries on his right shoulder, Evans is throwing again; and on track to play his senior season at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz.
“Two weeks ago I started throwing and practicing,” said Evans from his family’s Creston home earlier this week while home on a holiday visit. “I should be able to play opening day on Feb. 8. Hopefully I can cut it loose (throwing full-speed) before opening day.”
If Evans is a little cautious about that, it’s understandable. The long journey back from not being able to lift his arm from a torn labrum has tested his resolve.
“It makes you think about how much you love the sport,” said Evans, all-state catcher on Lenox’s state championship team in 2006 and on Creston’s state-tournament team in 2007. “Sometimes I was thinking I was not going to throw a ball again. I had a doctor tell me that.”
Evans, also a state-champion wrestler for Creston/Orient-Macksburg, was determined to make a successful comeback. Now, it appears he’s defied the odds.
“As long as I’m healthy, I will be the starting catcher,” Evans said. “I’ve been hitting for two months now, and now I’m throwing again.”
Just as Evans was starting to get serious inquiries from professional scouts during the 2011 season at Grand Canyon, Evans’ career took a detour.
“About halfway through the season, I was throwing to second base and heard my shoulder pop,” Evans said. “I finished the game, but the next day I couldn’t extend my arm. They gave me the day off. It really wasn’t getting any better, but I played out the season. Doctors later told me that probably wasn’t a very good idea.”
Playing with a labrum torn off the bone in three places, Evans stayed in the lineup and hit .325 with two home runs and 20 RBI in 151 at-bats. He had 35 throwing assists and a fielding average of .967.
“Our training staff thought there was no way I could have been throwing with a torn labrum, so they just thought I needed a couple of weeks off,” Evans said. “I couldn’t even throw after that, so I finally got an MRI.”
That’s when the tear was detected, and three anchor screws were inserted to reattach the labrum in an involved surgical procedure in August. He still couldn’t throw when trying in February 2012, so a second opinion was sought.
“The Arizona Cardinals doctor got involved, and he said what I had done was a good fix for a common person, but not someone that needs the throwing motion in athletics,” Evans said. “So, they took the screws out in a second surgery. They were causing pinching at the top of my throwing motion.”
Fortunately, the tear was healed by then. Now, he feels normal, but it’s been a long road back from two surgeries and a long break from training.
“I couldn’t lift or anything and I lost about 30 pounds,” said Evans, now getting close to his playing weight of 200 pounds. “For upper body I’m still just lifting at physical therapy, but I’m lifting normal for lower body. My throwing rehab program says I’ll be fully healthy on the first of March, but I’m trying to accelerate that a little.”
In January scrimmages, Evans will play DH for both teams to maximize his at-bats to regain his timing at the plate after missing a year of competition.
“It took me 20 years to get to this point, so I’m going to do everything I can to come back at my best,” Evans said.
The Antelopes have sent 13 players to the major leagues while winning four NAIA championships. They are now one of the top-ranked NCAA Division II teams, preparing for a transition to Division I next year in the Western Athletic Conference. This is their final year in the Pacific West Conference.
Evans will graduate in May with a degree in sports management, and has discussed an opportunity to join the Grand Canyon coaching staff. But, head coach Andy Stankiewicz played and coached in the major leagues, and has important connections. Evans still harbors hope of an opportunity.
“Coach Stankiewicz is well-known and has a good relationship with the scouting corps,” Evans said. “You see them at our games and practices. We get good exposure here in Phoenix, and he said some are starting to get interested again. They’re just being careful to see what happens. If I can put up good numbers, who knows? I’m staying optimistic.”