PELL CITY – Over the past few seasons, the number of UCL reconstruction (Tommy John) surgeries has drastically increased. This season, the Major Leagues and Minor Leagues combined have seen 50 players go down with UCL injuries. South Alabama standout Cole Billingsley is one of the many athletes who had the procedure done in 2013. The former Pell City standout said he felt tightness in his forearm and continued to pitch. He said the injury occurred when he threw a curve ball last fall.
“My injury happened on Halloween,” Billingsley said. “I saw a couple of doctors and got different answers. I finally got a complete answer and found out that my UCL was torn in my elbow and I had surgery on Nov.22. From that point I knew I wasn’t going to play. I got the surgery, I got red shirted. I have done a lot of rehab trying to get myself back to prepare my body back to where it was.”
The Pell City native pitched and played center field for the Jaguars in 2013 in his freshman season. He appeared in 51 games, 38 of which were starts. He had a batting average .302 with five doubles, two triples, 22 RBI, 30 runs scored and three stolen bases. He also played in 42 summer league games in the Coastal Plains League.
Not being able to play affected Billingsley. At the beginning it was hard to watch his teammates play from the dugout, but he said being able to get active as the season progressed helped the process for him.
“As the season went on, I got to do more stuff,” Billingsley said. “I was able to take fly balls, I got to hit a little bit before the end of the year. I had a couple of stages where I got released to do certain things. That helped my recovery process. I didn’t have to sit there and watch; I was able to get involved with batting practice and take fly balls.”
Billingsley said his support system and his positive outlook really helped him during this difficult time.
“My athletic trainer was with me from start to finish,” he said. “He is a really great guy. He was there giving me treatment every single day. He asked me if there was anything that I needed, and he was helping me out with whatever. That really helped me out a lot keeping me motivated. And my teammates. A few other players on my team have had Tommy John surgery. They told me that it was going to be alright. God has a plan for me like he has for everyone; I know that is a part of the plan, no matter how hard it is to look at it that way. This is a part of my plan. It wasn’t easy, and I am just trying to get myself back. My family was there to support me, my teammates, my athletic trainer, everyone was there to support me, and that helped out a lot. Seeing those guys telling me it was going to be alright and people praying for me really meant a lot for me.”
Billingsley has trained hard over the last few months to try to get back to the point where he was before the injury, if not better.
”I try to lift weights four or five days a week,” he said.” I hit about the same, four or five days a week. I throw to try to keep my arm in shape every day and I run every day. I am doing the things that I did before; I take fly balls a couple of times a week. I am not trying to kill myself, either; I give myself days of rest, which everyone needs. I’m working hard and I’m trying to get myself back.”
Last season, Billingsley welcomed his friend and longtime teammate Locke St. John to South Alabama. Even though the team struggled without Billingsley in the lineup, St. John flourished as he went 6-3 on the season. The southpaw was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 32nd round of the MLB Draft.
“I’ll give it to Locke, he is a competitor,” Billingsley said. “You can give him the ball. He will be ready to go, and he is going to give you his best effort no matter what. He has been like that since we were kids, and that is what everyone loves. He is going to give it his best every time he touches the ball, which is great about him. He is a humble guy. He works his butt off, and he is well deserving.”
Billingsley said it would be a dream come true to hear his name called in the next few years in the MLB draft.
“That is every kid’s dream, to be able to play professional baseball and get drafted,” Billingsley said. “I feel like I have worked for that. If it happens I am going to be ecstatic, but if it doesn’t, it wasn’t meant to be. I understand that as well.”
The rising junior still has three years of eligibility left at South Alabama. Whenever he decides to hang up the cleats for good, he plans to still be involved in sports through sports management.
“School has been going good,” he said. “I really enjoy what I am into as far as sports management. I have always been a big sports fan my whole life, so that was really first thing to go into. I love it. It keeps me involved. Baseball will be over for me one day, but I feel like going into sports management will keep me in sports somehow, and that is what I want to do.”