One thing anyone beaten down by life will tell you is that it happens because life throws curveballs. For BHS alum Tyler Skidmore, the curveball is more than just an ironic analogy.
Not quite three years ago, the thing Tyler Skidmore loved dearly was nearly taken away from him - baseball. And it was nearly taken away from him as the result of throwing less than a half a dozen pitches on July 17 of 2016.
In a quick rewind, the BHS alum and former Indian all-stater and state champion had just completed two years of baseball at Potomac State. He was prepping to play his final two years at Glenville State College and, after being told he may have a chance to pitch out of the bullpen, opted to pitch in summer league ball to get ready.
Pitching wasn’t unusual for Skidmore. In fact, the last time he pitched was two years prior and he had pitched pretty well on a pretty big stage.
Skidmore tossed Bridgeport High School into the Class AA state title game by way of a 3-1 win against Chapmanville in the state semifinal contest. That effort, which was on June 6 of 2014 (or almost two years to the day until he would pitch again) resulted in Skidmore finishing his senior year with a 5-0 record on the mound and securing his spot in BHS historic baseball lore.
Knowing he had a chance to contribute in college on the mound, the hard-hitting Skidmore who was equally adept defensively at first base, leapt at the opportunity. He didn’t know a major curveball from life was on its way.
Five pitches into his first pitching effort in two years, things went wrong. Things went drastically wrong.
On the fifth throw from the mound Skidmore felt a pop in his elbow that led to pain he described similar to a “knife through you elbow.” Despite positive thoughts from family, Skidmore knew he was done.
A week later, Skidmore’s thought process was unfortunately correct. It was determined he had damaged his ulnar collateral ligament. For those playing baseball, and for those pitching specifically, it’s the type of news you don’t want. To make matters worse, it was a complete tear.
The injury led him to get Tommy John surgery and also led him to Dr. William Post to perform the surgery. Rehabilitation began in August of 2016 with plenty of work at Bridgeport Physical Therapy.
While much rehabilitation is brutal, this was particularly grueling. Skidmore faced up to 12 months of rehabilitation. That included a huge brace on his right arm for nearly two months and what ended up turning into 18 months of rehabilitation that lapped over an eventual return to the sport he wasn’t sure he would return to.
It was obvious after the tear that college baseball was out for the immediate future. As it turned out, that may have worked out in ways he never imagined and it brings us to where we are today.
“It was late 2017 when I started playing again, but I could only DH (designated hitter) after 11 and a half months. At 12 months, I started playing in the field,” said Skidmore of summer ball to get ready for the upcoming season of college baseball.
There was another difference beyond returning from injury. Skidmore was no longer heading to Gilmer County for college. Instead, he needed just a short trip up I-79 to Fairmont State University.
“The coach that recruited me to Glenville State was now at West Virginia State. I actually got recruited there and nearly signed, but things changed,” said Skidmore.
Skidmore learned Fairmont State’s first baseman was leaving. Their coach did an impromptu recruiting of Skidmore that was likely one of the quickest ones ever by Coach Phil Caruso.
“Coach called me into talk and I went in without even telling my mom or my girlfriend. Two hours later Coach Caruso got back to me and asked me if I was going to sign and I told him I had some options to consider,” said Skidmore. “I could tell he wanted me, and I also felt like I should be closer to home, so I went to tell my mom and my girlfriend I was going to be a Falcon.”
Part of the reason for Skidmore to stay close to home was the recent passing of his father Heath. A former standout baseball player himself, Skidmore’s father was not only one of his son's biggest proponents and fans, but the glue for the family.
That same glue held Skidmore together as he struggled to get himself back into the game.
“I was motivated tremendously to succeed in school and in baseball by my father’s passing. He helped me through so much growing up and into college,” said Skidmore. “When I was rehabilitating he was constantly saying he we proud of me for going through the rehabilitation process and that’s something I leaned on. I wouldn’t want to ever let him down because his words kept me going.”
In particular, there were words one night at the dinner table. They came early in the process of injury, surgery and rehabilitation. And they came after Skidmore had done something most don’t advise when facing an injury or illness – he went to the internet to learn the worst.
“We were talking about the surgery and I knew I shouldn’t read about it on the internet, but I did, and I told my dad that I saw where 40 percent of the people having the surgery tear it again,” said Skidmore. “I asked him what am I going to do? He told me, and I can still hear it, that if it happened I would go through rehab again. It was just a matter of fact statement. That was motivation to stay out there when there were times I felt like I wasn’t getting better.”
The thing was, Skidmore didn’t know if he was getting better, or at least to where he felt he should be following surgery. In fact, he was in pain.
“I played with a lot of pain. Honestly, it wasn’t until this year when it subsided for the most part. It still acts up, but it’s not close to the issue I had been dealing with,” said Skidmore. “Before that, I ended up having to get comfortable with the pain. I told myself to suck it up, but in the back of my head I kept thinking another tear was coming.”
That’s when he talked with Christa Randolph. It was Randolph who led his rehabilitation at Bridgeport Physical Therapy during those early brutal months.
“Asking her if I was going to injure it again because of the pain I was playing through was hard because I wasn’t sure I was going to like the answer. She assured me it was scar tissue and tendinitis and it would get better,” said Skidmore.
Did the answer make a difference?
“Absolutely because the constant worry was lifted. I kept thinking a hard throw in any game was going to be the last day on the field because I was at the point, even with rehabilitation from a second surgery, my eligibility would be over,” said Skidmore. “When she told me I was going to be fine, I really settled in during my senior season.”
After a junior year where he batted roughly .285 with five home runs, his senior year was when he started to feel physically like he did pre-Tommy John. Actually, it came around in the summer.
“I noticed it in my swing,” said Skidmore. “I had a lot of pop in my bat, more than ever. I’ve never had a season with 13 home runs and I think it was a result of confidence I finally got back after sitting out so long, feeling better, training and thinking about my father.”
The 13 home runs is no small task, including two in his final game ever as a Falcon. In fact, Skidmore set Fairmont State’s single season record for most long balls in a year going back to 2002 - there are no records prior to that. He batted .308 with 41 RBIs as well this year.
“There’s a lot of reasons for being able to go out with a good year and a lot of it is a good bunch of teammates. My first fall back I was striking out a lot and they told me to stick with it,” said Skidmore, who actually received his diploma (Business Administration) in Beckley during the Mountain East Conference tournament this year. “It’s important for the guys in the dugout to have your back and they did.”
His family and friends beyond the ball field also had his back – especially his mother Maria. All of those things kept Skidmore focused on completing his career at Fairmont State at the top of his game athletically and academically.
“When you know your mom and your support system is there, it’s a big deal. Honestly, this entire process is so rewarding because of the time and work put into just being able to get back onto the field,” said Skidmore. “If I can come overcome this, people can overcome just about anything.”
And that’s why Tyler Skidmore’s story is about more than sports. Although in an athletic setting, he refused to allow a horrendous injury to stop him from where he wanted to go. He set his view on making his father proud and assuring his mother and everyone else close to him would have a perfect distraction as life moved on.
It’s a lesson Tyler Skidmore is aware of that translates into areas well beyond sports.
“It’s not about sports when you’re facing adversity. I would tell anyone facing a bad situation or several tough things at the same time to stay the course,” said Skidmore. “I think it’s really easy to get down and give up at times. You've just got to stay with it and find the motivation because you never know what life’s going to throw at you.”
It threw Tyler Skidmore a few curve balls. History has already told us he hit them out of the park.
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Tyler Skidmore in 2016 getting therapy from Christa Randolph, while he's shown with his father Heath at Pirates game as his dad's health began to decline but his love for baseball remained strong. In the third, fourth and fifth photos - all courtesy of Joe LaRocca of joelaroccaphotography.com - Skidmore is shown during his senior year at Fairmont State. The sixth photo is from high school and shows Tyler with his mother Maria. Below, Tyler is with family - including his father - after he had surgery on his right arm. Family photos courtesy of Maria Skidmore.
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