As the Gorillas begin their spring campaign, George Brandecker, a senior right-handed pitcher from Lee’s Summit, Mo., is just happy to have a second chance.
After a game in early April 2014, Brandecker started to experience swelling and redness in his right arm.
“I was also noticing that I was out of breath when I was walking to class,” Brandecker said. “It came to the point that sometimes, in the middle of the game after two outs, I would call a timeout and untie and retie my shoelaces just so I could catch my breath.”
After Brandecker discovered a lump under his right arm, some specialists thought he could have a blood disorder that would require him to hang up his cleats immediately and take blood thinners for the rest of his life.
“That was one of the hardest things for me to hear, that my days of playing baseball could be done that fast,” he said.
Vascular specialists in Kansas City and St. Louis performed a variety of tests, scans and x-rays, before a vascular surgeon in St. Louis came to a final diagnosis: Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome occurs when the nerves or blood vessels in the space between the collarbone and first rib are compressed, causing numbness, weakness and swelling in the arm.
Brandecker exercised a medical redshirt his senior season and underwent surgery in July 2014. He then began the long, slow process of strengthening his arm in order to come back stronger the following season.
“The therapy went relatively well,” Brandecker said. “There were a few hiccups here and there that slightly delayed my therapy, but I was able to finish and eventually start throwing again.”
In the summer of 2015, Brandecker took a job with a company in Los Angeles, commuting to San Diego twice a week to play for the San Diego Waves. Then, he was offered an opportunity to throw in the Cape Cod League in Boston.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Brandecker said. “My hand was shaking after putting down the phone. This league is a league everyone wants to play in. It was definitely a dream come true to be able to play in the best league in the country and pitch against the best hitters in college baseball.”
Brandecker joined the league in July, moving from San Diego to Falmouth, Mass., to play for the Falmouth Commodores. The Commodores played 24 games in 31 days in July. Brandecker played in five games, pitching four innings and posting an 8.30 ERA.
“I still sometimes think about 15 months ago, when I was in a hospital room having a doctor tell me that I could potentially not be able to play baseball anymore,” Brandecker said. “I am incredibly blessed and feel so fortunate.
“As I try to learn and experience as much as I can, I thank God whenever I can for giving me these incredible opportunities and allowing to have the best and most eventful summer of my life.”