Missouri pitcher Eric Anderson has a new hairdo for the 2013 season. He’s wearing his medium-length, dirty blonde hair combed and slicked toward the back, and it has already evoked a new nickname for him in the clubhouse: Clark Kent.
Being known as Superman’s alter ego might seem like high praise, but its intent is playful mocking.
Missouri (0-3) at Memphis (1-3)
WHEN: 4 p.m. Friday (Rob Zastryzny), 2 p.m. Saturday (Brett Graves), 1 p.m. Sunday (Eric Anderson) Projected Missouri starter in parentheses
WHERE: FedEx Park, Memphis, Tenn.
RADIO: KTGR/103.1 & 100.5 FM, 1580 AM
“I went in (to the training room) and Matt Long, our trainer, was like ‘Hey Clark, where’s your glasses?’” Anderson said. “So I turned around and had a total brain fart, so I was like ‘Thanks, I look like Clark Kent, I always wanted to look like Batman.' Right when I said it, I was like ‘Dang, that’s Superman.' So they're ragging on me.”
Backhanded or not, being known as Superman is fitting considering what Anderson will have overcome when he takes the mound for his first start of the season Sunday at Memphis.
Anderson, a right-hander, tore his labrum in his throwing arm during the 2010 season as a freshman, requiring shoulder surgery. Anderson returned to the Tigers’ rotation midway through the 2011 season as a sophomore and made Team USA the following summer.
His comeback was short-lived. In March of the 2012 season, Anderson had another part of his arm give out.
“I threw a slider and felt this sharp pull in my elbow, threw another pitch, felt a little worse,” Anderson said. “I didn’t think I was hurt; I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t think I was seriously injured. So I threw two more pitches and after that fourth pitch. I just knew something was wrong, so I came out of the game.”
Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in May to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and he has been in recovery and rehab modes since.
“If I were to tell you I would be at this point now nine months ago, I don’t think that would’ve been realistic,” Anderson said. “You have to go in with an open mind, knowing that there’s going to be setbacks and things can happen and probably will happen. But as of now, it really hasn’t.”
That lack of setbacks has pushed Anderson to an uncharacteristically quick recovery from an injury that usually requires at least a year of recovery time. Missouri coach Tim Jamieson attributed the successful recovery to Anderson’s experience with rehabbing a major injury.
“This being his second rehab in some ways is a blessing because a lot of it’s mental,” Jamieson said. “He kind of already made that adjustment because of his first rehab, so it’s been pretty smooth.”
“Clark Kent” will be the first to admit, however, that while he might be tough, he is mortal. Anderson said the hardest part of his recovery was overcoming his own fears, doubts and the question, “Why me?”
“Working that hard to get back and then 18 months later, all of a sudden, I’m told I need Tommy John,” Anderson said. “That was just like, I worked so hard, was finally starting to feel healthy, then boom everything’s gone again. It took about a month or two to really get over it and say ‘Hey, let’s move on, let’s get after it.’”
Since that moment, Anderson has adopted a new mindset, similar to that of his coach.
“For me to have (the injuries) back-to-back seemed kind of confusing to me, kind of demoralizing, but now that I think about it, it’s almost a blessing in disguise,” Anderson said. “I’m getting an education while doing it, and now I’ve gone through all the rehab. I’m strong as ever. I feel like I have maybe less chance than another pitcher has of getting hurt.”
The latest bit of good news for Anderson and the Tigers came earlier this week, when he was granted a medical redshirt as a result of missing the majority of the 2012 season. Although Missouri pitching coach Matt Hobbs knows Anderson is likely to be drafted into Major League Baseball following this upcoming season, he is excited about the possibility of having the resilient righty back for one more season.
“He’s the kind of like that player that you dream about coaching just because of the type of kid he is,” Hobbs said. “He can stay as long as he wants.”