After a long wait, George Kontos is back
Dr. Christopher Ahmad had just told him that the ligaments in his right elbow were torn completely, and that he would need the Tommy John procedure.
“It was, initially, a complete shock. The first thoughts that go through someone’s head who can’t do what they’ve been doing for the past 20 years of their life, it’s kind of a sense of panic, and it felt like the walls were closing in on me.”
Still, they say that there is strength in numbers, especially when it comes to baseball and elbow surgery.
There are a half a dozen pitchers on the current Trenton roster who’ve had their elbows reconstructed, and there were a few more in Scranton when Kontos got the bad news.
“It took a couple of days to sink in, and I was lucky enough to have guys like Mark Melancon and Sergio Mitre in the clubhouse in Scranton with me to go and talk to get a feel of what was to come,” Kontos said. “It sank in and I realized that it really wasn’t the end of the world.”
Between the diagnosis and that realization – and frankly, all throughout a player’s career – there was the fear of being suddenly thrust into a new reality that lacks both baseball and certainty.
Of course, Kontos isn’t alone in that mind set. Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett has been through the surgery as well, and remembers his first feelings as if it were yesterday.
“You can’t describe it, man, your world’s crushed,” Burnett explained. “You can’t imagine the feeling.”
Kontos went to see Dr. David Altchek -- one of the world’s elite orthopedic surgeons and the doctor who earlier this year performed former Thunder starter Christian Garcia’s second Tommy John surgery – and was instantly reassured that he would almost certainly come back just as strong as ever.
“It was easing,” Kontos said. “He said ‘You know what? This happens all the time. It’s an easy fix. We’ll do the procedure, and with rehab you’ll be back better than ever.’ He just really eased my mind about it.”
It wasn’t always that easy, though. John Smoltz, a lynchpin of the dominant Atlanta rotations of the mid- to late-90s, remembers a time when recovery from the procedure wasn’t a sure bet.
“It’s a little better today than it was a long time ago,” Smoltz said before working a game with TBS at Yankee Stadium earlier this season. “Your success rate is a lot greater, and if you follow the protocol and you see the history, there are a lot of guys who have been successful, then you’re going to feel a lot better when you get the news.”
When Smoltz had his surgery done, in 1991, he was told the success rate was close to 80 percent. By comparison, Altchek told Kontos that the current number was closer to 97 percent. Those types of numbers tend to reassure a player.
Sure enough, Kontos made his debut last month, ahead of schedule, and is just now working his way back into the swing of things. The only difference is, when Kontos left it was as a starter. Now, with no real spots open in Trenton or Scranton, he will be used out of the bullpen for the foreseeable future.
And that’s just fine with him.
“As far as I’m concerned, with the spots (in the rotation) and the no spots, I’m glad to be here, and I’m just going to go about my business and try to pitch well and try and get back to where I was last year.”