TAMPA - Will Darnall Jr. is a 13-year-old pitcher who has played baseball since he was 3-years-old.
"I just fell in love with the game,” said Darnall.
12-year-old pitcher Aaron Cohn, who is the son of ABC investigator Alan Cohn, started throwing at age 5.
Both have high school and college baseball in their line of sight, along with bigger dreams.
These two boys represent so many young boys playing ball year round in Florida, but one of these teens is making news -- and not for a reason he's happy about. He's part of a growing trend in young baseball pitchers -- kids getting serious surgery originally intended for major leaguers.
Will Darnall is Will’s father and biggest supporter.
“He's always in a lot of pain this time last year, going into the fall, because the muscles, bones, tendons could never really catch up. He always seemed out of whack," Darnall said.
Darnall said his son grew six inches in one year, but admits Will Jr. played through the pain until a couple of serious injuries sidelined him. One required a well know surgery.
Dr. Koco Eaton is the orthopedic surgeon for the Tampa Bay Rays.
“What we're going to do this morning is actually reconstruct this ligament along the inside part of the elbow," he said.
Dr. Eaton determined Will Jr. had torn a ligament called the ulnar collateral ligament or the UCL.
The procedure to fix it has been dubbed "Tommy John" surgery after the successful Major League pitcher who was the first person to ever have the surgery.
“The stresses that are applied into the inside part of the elbow when a young pitcher’s throwing are considerable," said Dr. Eaton. "The main ligament along the inside part of the elbow is this ligament right here which has been commonly referred to as the Tommy John ligament. The problem is that when someone is throwing a baseball hard, seventy pounds of pressure is generated across the inside part of the elbow joint. This ligament can only withstand thirty-five pounds of pressure. So the miracle is that this ligament doesn't get torn every single time a young baseball player throws the ball hard.”
A study released in July during the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine's annual meeting reported 83 percent of athletes who had the Tommy John surgery returned to the same level of play or even better.
The study also found that more and more young athletes are in need of and getting the surgery. Experts speculate it’s for the following reasons: year round play, over use of young throwing arms and kids playing on too many different teams at the same time.
”I don’t like it personally," said Aaron's coach, Ed Thinger. "I mean I watch James Shields of the Rays. He goes out on spring training his first day and he's throwing 35 pitches and we see kids out here throwing 50, 60, and 80 pitches the first day."
So how does Aaron's coach keep him from suffering Will's fate?
“I try not to go over three innings for most pitchers," he said. "We limit the amount of pitching they do during the week."
Still ethical questions linger -- are we pushing our kids too hard - and in doing so, risking their future? Will Sr. thinks maybe so.
“I can just see it, kids pitching constantly and when they're tired. And the managers aren’t thinking down the road. These kids want to play pro ball, they want to go to college. Little League managers want to win today. They want that trophy on the mantle today. They'll run your kid out there every chance they get. 75 pitches - 80 pitches depending on the age level. There's going to be no shortage of children, and I hate to say it, children not even young adults really, ending up in the Operating room because of the overuse of baseball."
There are risks to the Tommy John surgery including the risk of nerve injury. For more information on Dr. Eaton and Tommy John surgery:
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