SKOKIE — The start of baseball season comes with plenty of excitement and anticipation for many athletes, but there is some extra significance this year for two Buffalo Grove players.
For senior Jeremy Firszt and junior Ricky Strba, being able to play this season means returning from major injury.
Firszt, Buffalo Grove’s starting shortstop, tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last March before the start of his junior season. That injury can often require Tommy John surgery, with a recovery time as long as a year. Firszt opted against it.
“I just couldn’t be away from baseball for that long,” he said. “I decided to take time off, went through physical therapy and then just continued to work on my elbow.”
It took a variety of workouts with bands, dumbbells and medicine balls to re-strengthen the elbow, but he was able to be fully healed by the end of June, early enough to play some travel league ball.
“He’s back. He’s obviously a pretty important guy for us,” Buffalo Grove manager Jeff Grybash said. “He obviously made some pretty important plays in the field … for us. It makes a huge difference when you’ve got a guy up the middle who can do some things.”
Strba, Buffalo Grove’s starting first baseman, missed both football and basketball season after breaking his leg in the football preseason
“During the final week of football camp, I was blocking a teammate downfield and another player fell on my leg,” he said. “Unfortunately, my injury required surgery to repair the damage.”
But after multiple casts, a walking boot, four months of physical therapy and two missed seasons, Strba was able to recover in time for the start of baseball.
After having to endure that recovery process and spending so much time away from athletics, Strba said, “Being out on the field is the best feeling in the world.”
The rest of his team is happy to have him back as well, as at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds he adds some serious power to the middle of the batting order.
“He’s a big guy, and he can crush the ball,” Firszt said. “If you put the ball in the zone, it’ll be a bad day for the pitcher.”
For both players, their injuries forced them away from the sports they love. But that’s in the past, and now it’s just time to play baseball.
“You’ve been playing since you were little, and then suddenly you’re only watching and just want to be on the field,” Firszt said. “It’s just great to be out there again.”