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
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
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
“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
“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
“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.”