Injury turns Shorewood’s McCarthy into a lefty

  • Tony Dondero<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:55am

Sometimes parents who see their kids as future baseball or softball stars teach them at a young age to bat and throw left-handed to increase their versatility.

But even teenage athletes can try their hand at being ambidextrous.

A magnetic resonance image taken on Shorewood softball player Kayla McCarthy’s right arm before the season showed stress fractures in her ulna, commonly called the elbow bone, and her radius, the other bone in the lower arm.

The diagnosis meant, McCarthy, who played third base and pitched last year, coudn’t throw a softball with the arm this spring.

McCarthy had experienced pain in the arm since she was in eighth grade but played through it up until this year, her junior year. She previously went through two sessions of physical therapy but her arm didn’t get any better.

After the pain worsened, she visited Dr. Steven Anderson, a Seattle sports medicine specialist, and the MRI turned up the source of the pain.

At Shorewood’s first practice, she told coach Tom Rizzuto she wasn’t going to be able to play in the field but Rizzuto thought otherwise. He thought of his son, Jerry, who after injuring his right arm, had to learn to bowl using his left arm. He thought McCarthy could do the same.

“I thought I had two options: to be manager of varsity or try to throw left-handed on JV,” McCarthy said. “Coach insisted I do neither. He really wanted me to play on varsity. He told me I could do it and he was right.”

McCarthy showed up the next day at practice with a right-handed glove. Rizzuto thought McCarthy could play first base. That way she’d wouldn’t have to throw with her non-dominant arm as much.

“It was hard at first,” McCarthy said. “I just imagined doing everything backwards. I practiced throwing tennis balls over and over in my backyard to get my form down, watched myself in the mirror. I have OK mechanics now, I think.”

The Thunderbirds worked out a special defense when a slap hitter or bunter comes to the plate. McCarthy stays behind and covers first base while the second baseman comes up so she doesn’t have to make a throw.

So far she’s made most of the plays, stretching for high throws and digging for low ones, shifting her position to get grounders. Her throws are getting stronger too.

“I can almost get an across-the- field throw,” McCarthy said.

Not bad for a player who looked like she would be used only as a designated hitter.

Meanwhile, McCarthy, who received Western Conference South Division honorable mention last year, continues to be a tough out, hitting .405 this season.

Anderson said McCarthy’s injury is “pretty rare” and doctors are still learning about injuries in women’s softball.

Underhand pitching in softball causes less stress than overhand throwing in baseball, Anderson said, but in McCarthy’s case that’s still the likely culprit.

“It’s that level of activity that causes it,” he said.

It will take about three months for the stress fractures to heal with another three months of rehabilitation and strengthening, Anderson said.

“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “There isn’t a book on this, we don’t have enough experience to know. The real key is going to be building her up real gradually.”

The most important thing for athletes who suffer stress fractures is to learn how to interpret symptoms. Recognizing pain and knowing when to back off are important, Anderson said.

“Now she knows how to interpret those symptoms, put the brakes on,” Anderson said.

McCarthy wasn’t sure about coming out for her club fastpitch team, the U16 Edmonds Starz, because of her injury. She said she thought she’d be a liability but so far she’s been a contributor.

“We encouraged her to continue and talked her into coming out,” said Mark Mahan, the Edmonds Starz coach. “She’s made four or five incredible plays at first. Her hitting has been incredible this year.”

McCarthy said being a lefty is fine with her.

“I think I’m going to stay with my left hand for next year,” McCarthy said. “I don’t want to go through any pain on my right arm.”

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