Steve Nikorak immediately knew something was wrong.
On the 41st pitch he threw, a slider against No. 35 Wichita State on Feb. 22, 2009, he felt pain run through his right elbow.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Labolito
Steve left his first game as a sophomore without factoring into the decision. He pitched three-and-one-third scoreless innings in a game Temple lost, 8-4.
The Owls lost more than the game that day. Steve would not throw another pitch for Temple for a year.
After a series of MRIs, he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The procedure replaces the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow with a tendon from another part of the body, usually the forearm, hamstring, knee or foot. Steve’s tendon came from his wrist.
After the surgery, he began the 15-to-18-month rehabilitation process. For the first two months, his arm was pulled tightly in a splint to restrict movement.
Eventually, doctors removed the splint and put Steve’s right arm in a brace. This allowed him to gradually work on straightening out his arm until his full range of motion returned.
Within six to eight months, he began a throwing program. A year later, he was ready to pitch for Temple.
“Last year was the longest year of my career,” he said. “I’d never had to sit out that long before. So far, I haven’t had any setbacks, and I’m back pitching, though I struggled.”
Photo courtesy of Mitch Leff
Steve stepped back onto the mound this year for the Owls but posted a 3-5 record with an 8.41 ERA in 46 innings. He fared better at the plate, where he batted .318 with four home runs, 24 RBI and 31 runs during time at first base, third base and designated hitter.
After spending the summer after his freshman year with the Lehigh Valley Catz in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League in Allentown, Pa., Steve participated in North Carolina’s Coastal Plain League with the Wilson Tobs. He made seven starts in 11 appearances and boasted a 6-2 record with a 1.76 ERA, which ranked fifth best in the league.
He has two years of eligibility remaining before he has to confront the possibility that his days of playing competitive, professional baseball could be finished.
“Baseball takes up my whole life,” he said. “I know how slim my chances are of being drafted, but that’s why baseball is basically my major. I planned ahead and chose fields that would help me open up an indoor baseball facility if that’s the case. That way, no matter what, I’d still be involved in the sport I love.”
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