The Long Road Back

April 5, 2006

Success does not always follow disappointment, that is, unless your Hawkeye senior pitcher, Jeff Maitland. Two years ago, Maitland began feeling an extreme amount of pain in his throwing arm. After having elbow surgery later that year, it was a long road to recovery. Last year, he was able to come back midway through the season. After finding some success during his 2005 return, he is hoping to make his final season as a Hawkeye a memorable one.

During Iowa’s first week of practice, prior to the 2004 season, the left-handed pitcher began feeling pain in his arm. It was a pain he had never felt before, which made him think it was serious. At first, the injury was diagnosed as a slight stress fracture. After a few MRIs were taken, it was revealed that the stress fracture had turned into a bone chip on the elbow. The problem with the injury was that it wouldn’t heal. There wasn’t enough blood flow to the area to help the healing process. Only once in 15 year career as a coach, has Hawkeye pitching coach, Nick Zumsande seen an injury like this.

This left Jeff with a dilemma. He was given two options by the doctor.

“I was told to throw through the pain or to have surgery,” said Maitland. “I thought I was done. I went ahead and had the surgery not knowing if it was going to work. I didn’t know how long rehab would take, or if I was going to get back to 100 percent.”

Swelling from the surgery took about two weeks to go away. After that, Jeff was working hard with trainers every day. His rehab regiment consisted of stretching, heating, icing and strengthening. He was working about 90 minutes to two hours a day in rehab. Initially, he began seeing improvements, which helped to push him onward.

“Not playing because of an injury made me miss baseball that much more,” said Maitland. “What was taken from me fueled the fire.”

After awhile though, the regiment began to get old. The improvements lessened and it became frustrating. The trainers and Jeff were constantly getting on each others nerves. He just needed to be patient and continue with the work, but he was still getting down.

“It was very hard and frustrating,” said Maitland. “It was also very time consuming. I had very good trainers and good support. My parents and roommates helped. When they’d see me down, they’d pick me up. The coaching staff encouraged me. I had a great group of people around that helped keep me going.”

With people encouraging him, Jeff continued with grueling rehab workouts for the next 18 months. He knew it was the only thing he could do to get back to what he loved.

“I look back to those 18 months and you couldn’t tell me that kid wasn’t going to pitch in three days,” said Coach Zumsande. “It was an unreal effort and unreal focus on his part. If somebody ever had the excuse to feel sorry for themselves, it would be Jeff. But, I never saw that from him once. He was religious in his workouts.”

All of the hard work he had put in finally paid off when midway through the 2005 season, Jeff found out that he would resume his baseball career against North Dakota State.

“That was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been before a game,” said Maitland. “It was against North Dakota State, an up and coming program. I was terrified. I didn’t know if I was going to get killed, or what. But I got through it.”

He pitched three innings, while giving up one hit and striking out three. Not only was it a nervous experience for Jeff, but also for his coaches and teammates.

“That first inning he threw, I couldn’t really talk,” said Head Coach Jack Dahm. “It was pretty neat to see him go out and throw as well as he did. It was emotional for him, the trainers, Coach Zumsande and the entire team. To see a guy go through what he went through, not knowing if he was ever going to pitch again, and to throw as well as he did.”

Coach Dahm was happy to see him back and pitching well. Throughout the latter half of the season, Maitland was consistent. In a pivotal Friday start against Illinois, Maitland help the Hawkeyes to a win that helped them qualify for the Big Ten tournament. For game one of the tournament, against Minnesota, Maitland was given the ball. By then he felt good and just wanted to help the team.

After the season, Maitland decided to take the month of June off to let his arm rest. The rest provided his arm time to heal. He has come back better than ever. Heading into the season, he was expected to again show the consistency he demonstrated during the second half of 2005. On top of that, his confidence and velocity have gone up. Coach Zumsande believes he is better now than two years ago when he had first seen him

Even though he’s getting better, the coaches still try to keep him humble. They make sure that he knows he can always do better.

This season, Maitland leads the team with a 3-0 record. In his latest start against Ohio State, he threw a complete game and picked up the win.

For this season and beyond, the sky’s the limit for Jeff. He doesn’t want to look back on his college career and have any regrets. Like his rehab, where he put all of his trust in trainers, he’s now putting his trust in teammates and hoping to achieve as much as he can. Also like his rehab, he’s not holding anything back. Whether it’s running, throwing or lifting, he’s sill giving it his all.

“The injury is far behind me,” said Maitland. “Besides, maybe a slight flexibility issue, the injury is completely out of my mind. I feel 110 percent with everything.”

By Josh Mitchell, Iowa Sports Information