James Hall

Playing baseball through adversity
After two serious shoulder injuries on the field, LaGrange College baseball player James Hall had a lot of people helping him work toward his recovery—surgeons, an athletic trainer, his parents, coaches and teammates.

But ultimately, it was up to James alone to determine if he had the strength, perseverance and mental toughness to work through two major physical setbacks.

Now a junior, James has returned to the game full-speed this season as an outfielder, and perhaps the only indication of his adversity to an onlooker are the telltale huge ice packs he wears after each practice and game to nurse his shoulders.

The ice packs are the outward signs of the strong inner drive James has not to give up in spite of multiple injuries, ones that might have caused a different athlete to fittingly decide that playing his or her chosen college sport was just not meant to be.

His first injury
The history major and coaching minor from Hawkinsville had no worries on the field his freshman year, when he appeared in eight games and had five starts. He batted 0.322 with a home run and had a three-RBI game. He also had a three-hit game versus rival Emory University.

Having played competitive ball since he was 13 and been both an offensive and defensive standout on his high school team (Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and Offensive Player of the Year in 2009), James says he was living his childhood dream of playing college ball.

But during the third game of a summer league in LaGrange, James swung at a high pitch, and that’s when he felt the first hint of the ordeal that was to come. He remembers that even though he wasn’t in a lot of pain, he mentioned to the umpire and catcher that his left shoulder was slightly out of place.

His doctor recommended he stay out of the game for a week. When he was advised he could return to swinging, his shoulder came out of place again.

And this time, he says, “It really hurt.”

A month later, an MRI revealed he had a torn labrum in his left shoulder. During surgery a month after that, doctors found the injury to be worse than they had originally thought.

Months of painful rehabilitation followed, and for two months he would have to do simple stretching before even thinking of picking up a bat. After five months of therapy, he was allowed to swing a bat at 50 percent at a ball on a tee.

“It turned out to be a six-month process for it to be completely healed,” James says. “Luckily, all the rehab worked, and I was able to return for my sophomore season.”

His challenges continue

With his injury mostly behind him, James had a renewed spirit to continue playing ball for the Panthers.  But a day after his 20th birthday in April 2011, he was playing in LaGrange against Emory when he injured his other shoulder.

“I was playing right field, and Emory hit a shallow fly ball that I ran to get,” James says. “I had to dive to catch it, and when I dove I landed on my outstretched arm. I jammed it, and it hurt pretty bad when I did that. Then I had to throw the ball, and that didn’t really feel too good either.”

Only a week remained in the season, so James felt he could press on and just “play through it.”

“It hurt for the remainder of the week,” he says. “My arm kept going in and out of place just throwing the ball.”

The second injury worried James even more. Being his right arm, it was crucial that it heal so he could continue throwing, pitching and batting.

Doctors confirmed his reason to worry: Results showed a partially torn rotator cuff and another torn labrum. Once again, James needed surgery to stabilize his shoulder, which required another six months of rehabilitation.
Emerging from adversity

James said there were dark days during the aftermath of his injuries, times when he considered not returning to his beloved game.

“I would be lying if I sat here and said I didn’t think about quitting,” he says. “After my first surgery, I said, ‘I’m going to keep playing, I’m going to keep playing.’ But after the second one, I thought, ‘Why me?’ But that feeling didn’t last long.

“I finally thought to myself that I’m going to have to have therapy regardless,” he says. “So I figured, why not just do the therapy and have the mindset you’re going to play, and if it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out. I think it was something I needed to do myself; I felt I owed it to myself after all the things I’d been through.”

He also knew he needed to savor playing college baseball because, all too soon, that chapter of his life would be over.
“I’ve played it for so long; it’s part of my childhood,” he says. “After my surgery on my right arm, I thought, ‘You don’t have that many competitive games left. … You only have two more years to play a game you’ve played your whole life.’ ”
Help along the way

He credits LaGrange College Head Athletic Trainer Rob Dicks for helping him through agonizing days of rehab, saying Mr. Dicks mentally and physically helped him keep fighting.

“He’s the guy who’s here for me at LaGrange,” James says. “He’s the one who watches over me. I have the doctors and therapists, and they help too, but Rob sees how I respond when I’m playing. It’s nice to have a guy who looks after me always, who wants my well-being looked after.”

His coaches, he says, also have been a source of encouragement.

“My coaches have always been there for me. Coach (David) Kelton had arm surgery when he was in high school, so it’s nice to relate to him when I’m having arm trouble. I can ask him, ‘Did you ever hear this sound in your arm? Did you ever feel this?’ They don’t want to push me too hard because they know what I’ve been through. So if I ever say, ‘My arm is killing me,’ they tell me to take it easy because that’s what I need to do.”

His teammates are a source of strength—and humor—as well.

“They might not feel sorry for me, because they know I can be a good player and I can push through it,” he says, smiling. “A lot of times they make jokes. If I trip and fall, they say, ‘James is hurt again.’ But they mean it in a really good way. I know my teammates are always there for me.”

James plans to head to law school and follow in the footsteps of his dad, grandfather and uncle. But first, he is relishing the thought of playing for the LaGrange College Panthers his senior year.

“I’m really looking forward to my senior year; it better be injury-free,” he said, laughing. “Hopefully this summer I’ll be able to do the things other baseball players do, like getting bigger, faster, stronger, not sitting in a recliner or sleeping with a sling on all the time.

“My senior year is going to be a lot of fun, I think.”

Friends for the Journey

LaGrange College attracts the best and the brightest from all over the world. For example, our most recent incoming class consisted of men and women from 19 states and 10 countries, and included:

  • 76 members of Beta Club or the National Honor Society
  • 71 members of service organizations
  • 51 team captains in varsity sports
  • 25 leaders involved in student government, with 11 presidents
  • Three students involved in school publications, one as editor
  • Two Eagle Scouts
  • 20 musicians in band or orchestra
  • 18 singers in choir
  • 31 entertainers in performing arts
  • 85 students in religious activities.

But you don’t have to be a star in high school to succeed at LaGrange. Here, you’re given the opportunity to discover the best in yourself and find your destiny – all in a caring and supportive environment.