Four weeks on the bench while letting a broken thumb heal — and watching his teammates run the bases without him — felt like four years to 12-year-old Brayden Tate.
But now it was the bottom of the last inning of the USSSA Colorado State Championship semifinal game, and Tate was up to bat. A win would get his team into the state championship game the next morning. There were two outs, two runners on base, and they were down by only one.
Tate looked at his hand and, through his batting glove, felt the splint that was helping protect his once broken thumb, which had healed nicely, according to his orthopedic physician, Dr. Gavin Bishop, from UCHealth Longmont Clinic. Remembering how that splint hindered a catch just the inning before, Tate was determined to make up for one of his only errors of the season. He grabbed a bat, settled into the batter’s box and swung at the pitch.
Tate hit the ball down the right field line and got a walk-off two-run triple. His team won the game and the team advanced to the state championship.
“An injury is hard for both kids and parents, as neither want to miss out on anything,” Bishop said.
As a former all-American swimmer, and now a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician, Bishop is familiar with the strong desire of athletes to return to their sports.
“This is why it is so important to explain things as best as possible so we are all on the same page,” he said. “And then we come up with a plan that allows them to heal while still allowing a kid to be a kid.”
Tate has played baseball since he was 3 years old and he has played two years of competitive baseball. He loves the excitement and team dynamics. His broken thumb happened mid-June during a baseball tournament in Greeley. He was trying to take second base when the pop fly was caught, forcing him to race back to first. As he slid into the base, his thumb — either by way of the base or the first-baseman’s cleats — broke at the knuckle.
“It all happened so fast,” Tate said. “I grabbed my thumb and ran into the dugout. It hurt more than anything I’ve ever done to myself. I couldn’t get my batting glove on so I sat out the rest of the game.”
Thinking it was jammed, Tate finished the weekend tournament, but he sat mostly on the bench except for a short time at pitcher and centerfielder. After the game, his parents decided he needed to see a doctor.
An X-ray showed he had a “nondisplaced Salter-Harris II distal phalanx fracture,” Bishop said. The distal bone is at the top of the thumb. The plan was to keep the broken thumb protected and in alignment. Dr. Bishop was hopeful he would be able to finish out the season, even if he was sidelined for several weeks.
“Since Brayden’s wasn’t out of place, it just needed to heal correctly. His alignment could affect the growth plate and determine the potential for future injuries or even cause it to grow irregularly,” Bishop added.
Tate thought he would be out the rest of the season.
“I was sad at first because I had to sit for three tournaments, which was at least nine games, plus the regular league games” Tate said. “It felt like it was four years.”
As it became clear that Tate’s team might make the playoffs, Dr. Bishop tried to do everything he could to help protect Tate’s thumb.
“Leading up to this point,” Bishop said, “I wanted to make sure Brayden protected it, so we found a different splint that allowed him to do some things — not catch or hit; we were holding off on that — but I wanted to work together with the family to come up with a plan so that Brayden could do what he needed to do within the parameters we set. And when Brayden returned, the growth plate looked normal, and it was in good alignment. They had done a good job.”
The biggest game of Tate’s life – the state championship game – was filled with excitement and energy. Tate spent a good part of the game on the bench because of his injury. But in the final inning, with two outs and the opponent’s big hitter up to bat, the coach called upon Tate to cover centerfield.
When the pitcher struck out the batter, Tate and his teammates rushed the pitcher’s mound with their fists pumping. Tate and his buddies tossed their ball caps to the sky.
They were the state champs of Colorado, and glad to have Tate on the field to celebrate.