In the first two Tommy John interviews, I got the perspectives of an athletic trainer who owns a rehab center in the Baseball Health Network, and a rehab specialist who works with a surgeon who performs the surgery. This week I had the opportunity to interview Mickey Brueckner. I was able to connect with Mickey last year, as Mickey is a trainer for Rick Porcello in the offseason.
Brueckner is the owner and operator of Annex Sports Performance Center in New Jersey. Annex was started in 2005. Since then, it has blossomed into one of the nations top performance training centers in the region. Annex trains some of the top local athletes in baseball, basketball and football. Rick Porcello has been training at Annex since he was a teenager, and has used Annex for his entire professional career. Detroit Lions safety James Ihedigbo and New York Yankees pitcher Matt Daley are also clients of Annex.
Brueckner went to Seton Hall Prep with Rick Porcello and then went on to pitch at Seton Hall University. He then transferred and graduated from Arizona State University. Brueckner underwent two Tommy John surgeries in his baseball career. This derailed his promising baseball career. He was projected to be a top 5 round draft pick in the MLB draft before his injury. I was able to ask Mickey about his experiences with Tommy John surgery and his rehab experience. Mickey said, “I had my first surgery in May of my Sophomore season. That surgery was unsuccessful and I had to undergo a revision almost a year later.” Mickey offered this about the rehab process, “The rehab process was long and arduous both mentally and physically. It is a very long road back and ultimately something you never think about when going into the whole process. The process is often full of ups and downs, highs and lows, for some guys. It is not always the easy linear path that most think of.”
I asked Mickey about his normal clientele and how many of his clients at Annex are currently in the rehab process. “I work with pitchers of all ages and skill levels. Some are healthy, successful amateur and professional athletes coming back from varying degrees of arm issues or injuries. Some are post-operative pitchers coming back from shoulder or elbow surgeries.” Mickey has a lot of experience to offer to the players going through the rehab process, since he was in their shoes. He can provide a certain kind of empathy to the players, as he can share the experience of their rehab and their injuries, making the athletes more comfortable in his care.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Gottlieb
As with the previous two interviews, I asked Mickey if he believed that Tommy John leads to a pitcher being able to throw harder. His answer was different than the previous answers, but his experiences with this injury were also different than the previous interviews. Mickey said, “ I believe there are situations in which this could be true, simply because to come back from Tommy John athletes must go through an extensive and comprehensive rehabilitation process focusing on rotator cuff strength and stability, scapular strength and stability and development of adequate joint range of motion to maintain sound pitching mechanics. Often times the individuals suffering from a torn UCL never trained like this or implemented these mechanics. So to add this new training to their regimen will often provide a better foundation for the athlete. This can sometimes result in gains in velocity. However this not always the case and there are many circumstances in which this does not happen.”
The last question I asked Mickey was if he thought preventing little leaguers from throwing breaking pitches and teaching them proper mechanics would help prevent the surgery? Mickey said, “I think the biggest contributor to Tommy John surgery in younger populations is greater pitch counts for longer periods of the year. There is a higher precedent on velocity which is pushing young athletes to throw harder earlier on in their lives. These kids are not structurally ready to withstand this amount of stress on their joints seen with high pitch velocities. Another contributor is just poor fundamental movement patterns. Kids are playing one sport throughout the whole year now and this hurts athleticism in young kids. With very low movement variability kids are going out and building up a lot of repetitive stress on their arms.”
I enjoyed this interview, as it was nice to get the perspective of a player turned trainer. Thank you again Mickey for your time, it was very informative. Next week for the final installment in the Tommy John series, I will look back on the baseball career of a Red Sox Life writer and get his take on Tommy John.