“Tommy John surgery” are among the worst words that any pitcher can hear.
The best-case scenario for hurlers undergoing the elbow procedure is at least a year of rehabilitation before a return to the mound.
The worst-case scenario is the end of a baseball career.
Just a few months ago, Dover High School’s Shane Haffner heard those dreaded words after suffering an injury during his first game on the mound of his senior season.
Fortunately for Haffner, he didn’t need to have the elbow surgery, but he did have his senior season derailed by injury.
Friday, after months of rehabilitation, the big right-hander finally got back on the mound for Dover’s American Legion team.
His performance, to be succinct, was remarkable.
Haffner pitched a two-hit shutout in a 6-0 win against Gettysburg. He needed just 97 pitches, while striking out 15 and walking just one. Oh yeah, he also hit a homer.
Overcoming injury: As comebacks go, it bordered on unbelievable, especially considering the situation he found himself dealing with in late March.
In the fourth inning of his first 2019 high school start, he was forced from the mound after feeling a pull in his back below the shoulder blade.
“(The doctor) took videos (of) his back/shoulder while he lifted his arms up and down,” said his mother, Chris Haffner. “His throwing-side muscles were much ‘shorter.’ They were so tight and that’s what caused his muscle pain. Doc said he (couldn’t) believe he hasn’t had trouble with his elbow. If he had kept going he could have had to get Tommy John surgery.”
Luckily, his issue was diagnosed before elbow surgery was needed, but Haffner had to go through about six weeks of physical therapy, trying to loosen up the muscles in his shoulder area. Toward the end of therapy, he began to feel he was making real progress and two weeks ago he felt ready to pitch.
Dominating Gettysburg: That was bad news for a winless and overmatched Gettysburg squad on Friday. Gettysburg’s hitters simply couldn’t catch up with Haffner’s fastball, which had been clocked in the 83-85 mph range last season. Friday, however, Haffner said he felt even “stronger” than he did last season.
“I was very surprised (at Friday’s performance),” Haffner said. “I didn’t know how I would feel, but it felt so good, so I kept going with it.”
His Dover Legion coach, Bryce Smith, was similarly shocked at how well Haffner performed.
“At first, he had a little trouble getting back in the groove of pitching,” Smith said. “He was a little all over the place, but after two innings he settled down. We planned on having him on a pitch count, but he said he felt great and wanted to keep going so he can get back at 100%.”
If he wasn’t at 100% on Friday, the rest of the York-Adams American Legion League probably doesn’t want to see him at 100%.
Excellence is nothing new: Haffner said he felt a little sore after Friday’s outing, but after a little stretching and a little ice, he said he now feels pretty good. Still, as he continues his recovery, he will likely keep his pitching relatively limited, at least until the Legion playoffs start. Last year he was a force in the Legion playoffs, compiling a 1.44 ERA in Legion action.
Excelling on the mound is nothing new for Haffner. As a junior at Dover High, he was a York-Adams League Division II All-Star, going 4-2 for the Eagles with 0.79 ERA. He was hoping for even bigger things as a senior before his back injury intervened.
Missing his last high school campaign was obviously a major disappointment for Haffner, but at least he appears to have fully recovered now. He can look forward to the remainder of his Legion season before he moves on to pitch for Elizabethtown College on the NCAA Division III level.
Helped by former Revs: On his road to E-Town, he’s been helped by a pair of former York Revolution standouts who now offer personal instruction in the area. Corey Thurman has helped him with his pitching and Jason Aspito had helped with his hitting.
“I wouldn’t be in the same position without them,” Haffner said. “They were my mentors growing up.”
Intimidating presence on mound: It’s obvious that Haffner is now fully grown. At 6 feet, 3 inches and 265 pounds, he’s an intimidating presence on the mound. He’s constantly been asked if he also played football. His response has always been simple.
“Nope, I play baseball and basketball.”
Baseball, however, has always been his “favorite” sport “by far.”
When healthy, he’s proven that he can play baseball quite well, especially when he’s towering over the opposition while standing on the mound.
For proof, just ask the Legion players from Gettysburg.
Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.