McMahon Returns To Merrimack’s Mound
- Updated: April 1, 2014
After missing two years with a stress fracture in his pitching elbow, senior Conner McMahon has been stellar in his senior season on the mound for Merrimack (Courtesy Photo)
NORTH ANDOVER – Conner McMahon had no idea how much he missed those high fives.
For the past two years, the Merrimack senior had been the one giving them out to teammates as they left the mound, as he was relegated to the dugout after suffering a stress fracture in his pitching elbow that cost him the last two seasons.
His road back to the rubber has included a wrong diagnosis, a surgery, and two rehabs.
Now, the left-hander is 3-0 with a 1.20 earned-run average in five starts this spring as a senior, despite not pitching since his freshman year.
“That first time I left the mound after a start, and walked back to the dugout, when the guys were there waiting for me to just give you a high five and tell you ‘nice job,’ it sounds strange but I had no idea how much I missed that,” McMahon said. “When I couldn’t pitch, I wanted to do whatever I could to help the team. But it’s hard to feel like your contributing. It was just a great feeling. I took it for granted.”
(Ed. Note – Conner McMahon has no relation to The Mack Report managing editor and Eagle-Tribune writer Mike McMahon. This story will appear in The Eagle Tribune later this week)
The Long Road to a Diagnosis
At the start of McMahon’s sophomore season, he started to feel pain in his throwing arm. After consulting with doctors, he missed the entire season with what, at the time, was diagnosed as a UCL sprain. He spent the season in rehab, working on strengthening the ligament and the muscles around it, but it never seemed to get better.
That summer he went to pitch in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, and after his first start, the familiar pain he felt at the start of his sophomore season immediately returned.
“I knew something wasn’t right,” McMahon said. “I didn’t know what was wrong, but it didn’t feel any better. It felt exactly the same. My arm felt stronger, but the pain was still there, in the exact same place.”
With no other choice, he had to go back to the doctor.
Only this time he went to see a surgeon near his hometown in Springfield. After carefully examining an x-ray, the doctor noticed a small line in his bone.
“It was a stress fracture,” McMahon said. “The doctors hadn’t noticed it before because it was so small, but it was right there. Right in my pitching elbow.”
The doctor in Springfield told McMahon to take two months off.
“They told me that a lot of times, these injuries heal themselves with a lot of rest,” he said.
But his didn’t.
After making two brief appearances last season as a junior, the pain had actually worsened.
McMahon went to see another doctor, again, but admits this time, he got lucky.
“I ended up with a great doctor,” he said, “he’s the chief of surgery at Tufts.”
There, plan B was put into motion.
McMahon opted for surgery, which meant a 4-inch steel plate and six screws being permanently implanted inside his throwing elbow in order to keep the fracture from worsening.
“It’s a weird feeling having to make that decision,” he said. “You’re talking about having an operation that’s going to end up with you having metal inside your body for the rest of your life. I thought about it, but it was the best thing for me. The pain was really bad, it wasn’t getting any better. I needed to do something about it.”
The plate criss-crosses along the fracture, keeping the bone in place.
After surgery, which forced McMahon to miss the rest of his junior season, he was back in rehab, following a program similar to one used for pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery.
“Mine was a little more sped up because we weren’t dealing with a ligament, but it was almost exactly the same,” he said.
After taking small steps – first throwing, then long toss – McMahon finally pitched off a mound soon after Merrimack returned from winter break earlier this year.
“It was awesome,” he said. “No pain. I was a little nervous at first, only because you’re not sure how much you can push it, but it felt great.
“The plate was made specifically for me to pitch, so when I’m throwing, I feel no pain at all. It is a little weird though, because some small everyday things that you never think about – like for me pulling down a shade – that hurts a lot.”
Doubts, and the Therapy of Baseball
After his failed attempt to return for his junior season, McMahon admits doubts entered his mind.
“You think everything to yourself,” he said. “Sure, I wondered if I was ever going to pitch again. I love the game and to think that it might be over for me, that was something I was having a hard time with.”
To help with his nerves, McMahon stayed around the team as much as he could.
“He would do anything,” head coach Jim Martin said. “If I wanted him to run the book, he’d run the book. He just wanted to be around.”
McMahon added, “I even ran in game balls. I think I missed one game in those two years, and it was because I had a doctor’s appointment.”
Watching Merrimack’s success last season, advancing to the Northeast-10 championship game, gave McMahon even more motivation to return for his senior season.
“Coach always says it takes every guy to win a game,” he said. “I wanted to be there and do my part, even if I couldn’t pitch. The run we went on last year, that made me definitely want to come back. I wanted to help get us back there, and hopefully win it. If I could do something to help, I wanted to do it.”
Finally, it was here.
On Feb. 21, McMahon was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with the rest of the Warriors, ready to open the regular season at the Ripken Experience.
Merrimack won Game 1 of the day’s double-header, 4-3, over Dowling.
That afternoon, McMahon was about to make his comeback against Molloy.
“I’ll admit it now, I was definitely nervous,” he said. “You just want to get that first out, and I just kept trying to focus on the next pitch. I didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I did think about my arm, I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
What happened was six innings, two earned runs, and a Merrimack 4-3 win.
His next start, last month, the threw seven shutout innings to pickup his first win of the season.
“It’s been great to watch him return the way he has,” Martin said. “He has worked so hard to come back and pitch. He’s having success right now, and it’s great to see. He deserves it, he worked so hard.”
As he left the mound after the sixth inning of his first start, he walked into a dugout where finally, for a change, his teammates were welcoming him off the mound.
“That was the best feeling,” he said. “All I’ve ever wanted to do was play baseball. I’ll never forget that.”