Hepler
Hepler

There are no regrets for Kaden Hepler.

Not for the 901/3 innings and countless pitches he tossed for the West York High School baseball team in 2012.

Definitely not for his 0.70 ERA and 14-0 record, including four wins in the PIAA Class AAA Tournament, which led the Bulldogs to a state title.

Not even if all of that wear and tear on his arm may have eventually led to Tommy John surgery last month for Hepler, who is now a freshman at NCAA Division I Winthrop (S.C.) University.

"I don't have any regrets. It's what I decided to do," Hepler said. "This surgery and what happened ... God has a plan for what happened. I just have to accept it and trust in him and we'll see what happens. If I work hard in rehab this upcoming fall, then I should be ready to go next season."

Hepler said he has always rested him arm when needed during his career. And he understands there is no exact reason as to what led to the ulnar collateral ligament tearing in his right throwing arm. Maybe his time pitching for a travel team and the Central League's Shiloh club last summer may have played a part, but doctors have told him the injury just happens to some pitchers.

"These things just happen from throwing your whole life," he said. "Just so much stress on the ligament from throwing. Some people, eventually it just tears for them."

Injury: Making his first college appearance in Winthrop's season opener on a Friday evening, Feb. 15, Hepler came out of the bullpen to start the seventh inning against University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.

With his dad and grandfather watching from the stands at Winthrop Ballpark, Hepler got his first batter to fly out to right field and the second batter to go down swinging.

"(Facing) the third batter I felt a pop in my elbow and that was it," Hepler said. "It was probably 12 pitches (I had thrown). At first I was thinking 'Oh, crap. This isn't good.' That was the one fear I always had in my life, was screwing my arm up."

Surgery: Hepler visited a doctor in Charlotte the next morning and underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) the following Wednesday.

"The MRI showed it (the ligament) was at least 50-percent torn," he said. "They gave me two options: surgery or try to rehab it and see how it feels in a couple months and start another throwing program from there."

Hepler underwent surgery, which revealed the ligament was completely torn, on March 5.

In the midst of this ordeal, Hepler also had to deal with the death of his grandfather, Wayne L. Hepler, who died Feb. 23 at the age of 69. A pastor at many churches during his life, Wayne L. Hepler played a big role in Kaden's spirituality, according to Kaden's dad, Wayne D. Hepler.

"We're really proud in regards to that, because (Kaden) has kept a great, positive attitude," Wayne D. Hepler said of his son. "He's willing to do what needs to get done. His faith has not wavered through any of this stuff."

Good timing: Hepler will have others to lean on for advice in his recovery. Three Winthrop teammates have previously undergone Tommy John surgery. Plus, if he had to get injured, he's glad it happened now.

"It's better to happen now than later," he said of the injury. "If I was a junior or senior in college and looking to play at the next level and I had missed a year recently, a (professional) team might take a pass on me."

A business administration major, Hepler will sit out this year with a medical redshirt. He then aims to get back to full health in time for the start of the 2014 season. And he has shown what he can do when healthy. He has a state gold medal in his dormitory room as a reminder.

"I don't let that thing out my sight," he said.

-- Reach John Walk at jwalk@yorkdispatch.com.