DUNEDIN, FL – Every time Marcus Walden takes the mound he becomes more confident that adversity is behind him and his future is in front.
Walden, now a 24-year-old starting pitcher in the Toronto Blue Jays’ system, is coming off the best season of his career, one that saw him go 9-2 in 13 games and post a career-best ERA of 2.83.
His performance last season was a personal triumph, having worked his way back from multiple shoulder surgeries that caused him to miss most of 2009 and all of the 2010 season.
“I had a long road to get back to health,” said Walden, at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. “I was in high-A in 2009. I was only 20 years old at the time and I thought things were looking real bright for me.”
At least for a while.
“My fourth start [on] April 28, I blew my elbow out. I tried to rehab, I rehabbed all season and ended up getting surgery.”
After several unsuccessful attempts at rehabilitation, Walden was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in March of 2010, taking a ligament from another section of his body and inserting in his elbow.
“I rehabbed all that year. They actually let me go home because I had a really good place back home to rehab,” Walden said.
“I got sent to Lansing [on] April 28, 2011 — two years to the day I threw again in a real game situation and that was probably one of the happiest days of my life.”
That first game back from injury was a big moment in Walden’s career. It was the realization that all of the hard work he had put in just to be able to compete at a high level once again had paid off.
For Walden, the game itself was characterized by conflicting feelings of uncertainty and accomplishment.
“It’s a little questionable. You haven’t really let it go.,” he said. “No matter what they say, throwing bullpens, you could throw 300 pitches it doesn’t really matter.
“But once to you get in the game and there are runners on first and second with nobody out you better let it loose.”
“My arm felt good and that’s when you finally realize ‘alright I can do this again’ and those two years of hard work and really getting your body to do what you want it to do is when it pays off.”
Getting back to the point of simply being able to take the field for a competitive game of baseball required several months of intensive rehab.
Walden’s work ethic and love of the game helped motivate him to work his way back to health.
“The first four months are the long ones. You don’t even get to throw. You are just going to rehab and they are cranking on your elbow so hard you want to cry,” Walden said.
“But after those four months, you start throwing and it goes by fast because every other day you are throwing a baseball and that’s what you live for. You are out there to throw the ball.“
Getting back on the field was just the first step for Walden. After that he had to prove that he could pitch effectively.
Walden used the 2011 season to regain his footing in professional baseball. In 2012, he began the season in Lansing, before getting the promotion back to Dunedin where he had not played since 2009.
“I’m finally back — three and half years later. I was 19 and then I was 23. It seemed like a lifetime. But I’m finally back to where I believed I should be from the beginning and now it is time to just prove myself there.”