After tearing his labrum and missing his first year of collegiate baseball, the Ocoee native has come back stronger than ever.
As Garett Reason-Kerkhoff posed for a photo after the West Boca Snappers’ 5-2 win in the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League title game, he knew how far he had come.
Winning a championship was nice, but for Reason-Kerkhoff and his journey, it was a cherry on top. He knew going into the collegiate summer season that there were more important things than just winning.
“We won it the year before, so we wanted to go in and defend our title,” said Reason-Kerkhoff, an Ocoee resident. “But they also really cared for our development and wanted us to succeed once we do go back to school.”
The summer leagues throughout Florida are made for collegiate baseball players looking to hone their craft during the offseason, and it’s the developmental aspect that drew Reason-Kerkhoff’s attention in the first place.
Reason-Kerkhoff was looking for a way — any way — to get over a mental block on defense that had plagued him since late 2017 in what would be one of the biggest challenges of his baseball career.
Going into his freshman year at Christian Brothers University in Memphis back in 2017, Reason-Kerkhoff was already anxious about playing collegiate baseball. Then, the injury happened.
“We won it the year before, so we wanted to go in and defend our title. But they also really cared for our development and wanted us to succeed once we do go back to school.”
— Garett Reason-Kerkhoff
Two weeks into practice, Reason-Kerkhoff was out on the field throwing a few long tosses when he heard and felt a “pop” in his shoulder.
After a few MRIs failed to show anything, an MRA finally showed what had happened. That sound — which no athlete wants to hear — was that of his labrum tearing.
“At this point I’m struggling to pick up my arm and move it certain ways — it was hurting a lot,” Reason-Kerkhoff said. “So what I ended up doing — and the game plan that I decided to do with my parents — was we were going to get the surgery and I’ll sit out this year and still have my four years of eligibility, instead of trying to play through this injury and make things worse in the long run.”
Reason-Kerkhoff got the surgery on Jan. 18, 2018, and what followed was six to eight months of rehab that forced him off the field and onto the bench for the CBU Buccaneers.
The first five months of his rehab was nonstop physical therapy to get his arm back to strength, but for Reason-Kerkhoff it took a full year to get back to his old self.
Luckily there was somewhat of a silver lining for Reason-Kerkhoff, in that he wasn’t alone as he watched from the bench during the 2018 season — one of his teammates, Kyle Hindman, had also torn his labrum, and that time together formed a friendship neither had expected.
“He ended up having the same surgery, so him and I were kind of like bench buddies,” Reason-Kerkhoff said. “We were both in our slings the majority of the spring season — just kind of chilling around with each other. It was nice to have somebody else to experience what I was experiencing.”
Making a new friend was great, but sitting there on the bench — as a then-redshirt freshman — and watching everything unfold around you is a tough thing.
All you want to do is get out there and do what you’ve trained your whole life to do, Reason-Kerkhoff said.
“I definitely had a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of mental stuff going on with that, because it just kind of hurts to see your team out there,” Reason-Kerkhoff said. “Even though I couldn’t practice or anything, I still had to get up and lift at 5:30 in the morning and go be a part of the team, which I loved, but I also wanted to be out there with the guys being one of them — fielding, doing everything that I can to be a part of the team.
“So it just kind of hurt not being able to go out there and do what I wanted to do, because I reached the goal of playing college baseball, but then I was set back right away,” he said. “That was tough on me.”
After a full year of working through the physical rehab, Reason-Kerkhoff was finally back in shape and was looking to make his mark. Needless to say, he did it with a bang.
In the 2019 spring season, Reason-Kerkhoff started 43 games at second base, while at the plate he’d bat for an average of .282 (42-for-149) with 14 RBI. Reason-Kerkhoff had finally arrived.
“When I finally got to play this past year, it was everything that I dreamed of,” Reason-Kerkhoff said. “Of course there were the hiccups and the errors and the strikeouts, but (with) baseball you fail 70% of the time and you’re considered a good hitter.”
“I definitely had a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of mental stuff going on with that, because it just kind of hurts to see your team out there."
— Garett Reason-Kerkhoff
While things in general were still going pretty good, there remained a residual from the injury.
Physically Reason-Kerkhoff was fine, but there was a sort of mental block that stayed with him while he was out on the field playing defense. Dealing with an injury is just as much a mental obstacle as much as it is physical, Reason-Kerkhoff said.
Going into the summer baseball season, Reason-Kerkhoff realized what he had (to do) get over this nagging roadblock, and he did just that.
“I worked with one of the guys, Derek Cartaya — he goes to FIU — and he kind of just talked me through some stuff,” Reason-Kerkhoff said. “Working with him and just feeling relaxed and going back to the basics of just enjoying baseball —and that’s what I truly did this summer — I really did enjoy myself.”
With the summer season now over for Reason-Kerkhoff, he’ll look to keep up that pace as he gets ready to head back to school for his junior year (which will be his redshirt sophomore year on the field).
And with all signs of his mental block gone, Reason-Kerkhoff is more ready than ever to get back to the game he loves.
“I’m thrilled — I’m ready to move in right now,” Reason-Kerkhoff said. “I’m ready to go up there and be with my teammates right now, and just hang out with them and go hit.”