He is Zach and better than ever. Samford starting pitcher Zach Hester is on the long road back to the mound after having Tommy John surgery in February of this year.
Hester was recruited his junior year of high school to play for LSU Eunice — a school he was interested in because his brother had played there in years prior. After playing there for two years and winning the Division II NJCAA National Championship in 2018, the Bulldogs recruited him. He flew to Samford University to tour the school and facilities and watch the team play.
“When I got back on the plane to go home, I knew I would be back soon,” Hester said.
His career at Samford began the next school year, where he promptly won SoCon pitcher of the year in 2019.
Just three weeks before the 2020 season was to commence, Hester started feeling a pain in his elbow. He took two weeks off and then went to the doctor for what was thought to be a muscle issue. He began throwing just one week before the season opener and even felt good enough to start that Sunday.
Hester, along with the coaching staff and his teammates, quickly knew something was off when he had to be taken out of the game after only four innings.
“I knew something was wrong because getting pulled just wasn’t something that had happened to me before,” Hester said.
When he came into the dugout, he was unable to fully extend and straighten his throwing arm.
“Coach Dunn told me to get in there to get things taken care of,” Hester said .
Hester visited St. Vincent’s Hospital for a number of scans, x-rays and MRI tests to assess the problem with his arm. He was able to realize the severity of his injury as soon as the doctor came in to see him.
“The doctor started asking all about my eligibility and what time I had left and my head just dropped,” Hester said.
The pitcher was in immediate need of ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery, better known in the baseball world as Tommy John surgery. The surgery uses a tendon from somewhere else in the individual’s body to replace a ligament in the elbow in order to restore a full range of motion as well as eliminate their pain.
Hester’s surgery occurred on Feb. 26, a few weeks before hospitals cancelled or postponed all non-life-threatening surgeries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was lucky,” Hester said. “So lucky.”
Hester refused to let this surgery stop him from playing the game he loved. He went to rehabilitation for six weeks and he continues to go to therapy for pitching, coaching and mobility.
Inspiration came in two forms: Hester’s brother and teammates.
“My brother had all the talent in the world, but gave up baseball after he got hurt — I was not going to let that happen to me,” Hester said .
This determination was backed up by support from his teammates and coaches. Teammate Jesse McCord, another pitcher on the team, had also previously undergone Tommy John surgery. He served as a consistent form of encouragement to Hester, assuring him that everything would be fine.
With his family and entire squad behind him, Hester is eagerly looking forward to his 2021 season with the Samford Bulldogs.