No BONES about it
Post Independent Sports Editor
RIFLE — Bailey Hoffmeister doesn’t have the proverbial weight of the world on his shoulders, but it might have felt that way at times.
He would feel sharp pain in his shoulders when he threw the baseball, and the pain continually got worse over time. It turns out that pain didn’t come from throwing too much or working too hard, but from something totally out of the control of the Rifle High School junior.
“It’s just something I was born with,” Hoffmeister said.
That something was in his bone structure. Hoffmeister was born with a flattened glenoid, the part of the scapula which attaches the upper-arm bone, or humerus. That bone structure created bone friction in Hoffmeister’s shoulders whenever he threw a baseball, causing a sharp pain that prevented him from playing much of the 2012 season.
But even after Hoffmeister was told by a doctor he wouldn’t play baseball again, that diagnosis didn’t stop him from finding a way to make it work.
“The bones aren’t shaped right. That’s what the X-rays showed,” Hoffmeister said. “It’s like bone on bone, and that’s where the pain comes from. When you’re throwing over the top, it gets to the point where it kind of slips out of the socket.
“That’s where I use the physical therapy to strengthen up the muscles in my back,” he continued. “That prevents it from slipping out.”
Playing through pain
Hoffmeister always had pain in his shoulders when he played baseball, but he never made an issue out of it. His mother, Shona, said he’d always been able to do things like one-armed push-ups. If he threw a baseball, his arm would slip out of socket, but Hoffmeister would just put it back into place without giving it a second thought.
The serious pain didn’t come, however, until he started playing baseball more frequently. A shooting pain would go down his arm after he’d had a full day of throwing, but putting ice on the spot that hurt would alleviate the pain.
Then, during preseason workouts prior to the 2012 season, the pain in his shoulder became unbearable enough to justify a visit to a doctor. He went with his parents to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, where he had the initial X-rays done.
Those X-rays showed the flattened glenoid, which typically is cup-shaped to fit the top of the humerus to the scapula bone.
“They took that X-ray, then told me that I should switch sports and go run track,” Hoffmeister said. “That kind of freaked me out. I love baseball.”
The news was stunning to Rifle baseball coach Troy Phillips, who was hoping to use Hoffmeister as a pitcher for the foreseeable future. But instead of being done, Hoffmeister and his family got a second medical opinion from a doctor in Steamboat Springs, who agreed to meet halfway in Craig to give Bailey’s shoulders a second look.
Second opinion, second chance
Hoffmeister was cleared to play and was given cortisone shots in his shoulder, which alleviated the pain but didn’t get rid of it. That forced him to miss Rifle’s first eight games, and he played as a designated hitter for the rest of the season.
During that time, however, he began a rehabilitation regimen at Grand River Medical Center in Rifle. The itinerary focused on making Hoffmeister’s back muscles, such as the deltoids, the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus and teras majors and minors, stronger to compensate for his unusual bone structure.
The exercises Hoffmeister started focused not only on strengthening his back muscles, but stabilizing them as well. Those muscles had stabilized enough for him to play during the summer baseball season, and the condition didn’t prevent him from playing football in the fall, either.
By the time this baseball season had started, Hoffmeister had recovered enough to be an everyday position player. And he wasn’t relegated to playing first base, the position on the field which requires the least throwing. Instead, he plays positions in the field which can require the longest throws, such as outfield and third base. He’s even seen some time on the mound, where Phillips will treat him just like any other player. He’ll rely on Hoffmeister to be honest with how he’s feeling before he makes changes, not setting something like a pitch-count limit as a barrier.
“I’m not a strong proponent for pitch counts for my guys,” Phillips said. “The research I’ve done shows some kids are limited too early, and they never build the arm strength they need later on, some kids need to be taken out after 40 pitches instead of 80 because their arm doesn’t feel well. So it’s better to have the kids listen to how their arms are feeling, and Bailey’s done a good job of that.”
Top of the lineup
That strength and conditioning program has made a world of difference for Hoffmeister, who is contributing heavily for the Bears this season.
Coming into today’s season-ending doubleheader against Battle Mountain, Hoffmeister is third on the team with a .404 batting average with 21 stolen bases and a .600 on-base percentage. As a pitcher, he’s pitched 16 1/3 innings, with a 1.29 ERA. He’s allowed 16 runs, but only three of the runs were earned.
His standout performance on the mound came against Summit on April 6. He pitched a complete game in a 6-5 loss, finishing with three strikeouts and no walks. Only two of his runs allowed were earned, however, and he utilized a knuckleball much of the game to go the distance.
And considering how Hoffmeister was initially told to start running around a track instead of a baseball diamond, his on-field success has lifted a huge weight off his shoulders.
“I thought I was done,” Hoffmeister said. “I took that really, really hard when I was told that. I’m just glad I’ve had the opportunity I’ve had.”
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