There is no uniform. There won’t be any pitches for months. Days now are spent on the very beginnings of rebuilding hand and wrist strength.
Mason Feole is a professional baseball player, his dream a reality. Selected by the San Diego Padres in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball Draft, the former Prout star signed July 11.
And even with the usual pieces of the dream-turned-reality forced out of the picture by Tommy John surgery, he counts himself lucky.
“It’s pretty surreal to have this opportunity,” Feole said. “I thank God every single day for the opportunities he’s given me. I’m completely blessed to be in this situation. Though my road may have been a little wacky, I think it just goes to show that God’s plan is truly bigger than your own. He’s going to put you into situations that are going to test you. I’m going to accept those tests.”
The rehab Feole is wading into will be a challenge, but it at least marks the start of a new chapter and the welcome end of a rollercoaster ride. It began in January when Feole was throwing a bullpen session at Hop’s Athletic Performance in Coventry, where he trains in the offseason, readying for his junior season at the University of Connecticut. Nine pitches into it, he felt a sharp pain in his elbow.
“I turned around and said to one of my buddies, ‘I think I just tore my UCL,’” Feole said.
UCL is the ulnar collateral ligament, the one piece of elbow anatomy that every pitcher knows. A tear typically requires Tommy John surgery. The procedure has become common, with thousands of success stories, but it costs pitchers more than a year of action.
Feole went for an MRI. There was significant inflammation, but he was told there was no tear. Doctors and the UConn staff set out a rehab plan similar to what a pitcher would do for a partially torn ligament.
It was a setback as Feole prepped for the likely culmination of a great career at UConn. While he was rehabbing, he was named the preseason American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year and a preseason All-American by three outlets. The draft also loomed.
“We worked really hard to try to get rid of some of that pain. Then it was about mentally kind of pushing through and trying to get back on the field,” Feole said. “Being told nothing was really wrong, you kind of push through it. There’s a little pain but you push through it. You want to compete and you want to be out there for your teammates.”
Feole missed the first few weeks of the season but was back on the mound on March 3. He ended up with a 4.09 ERA in 14 games and helped the Huskies to an NCAA Tournament Regional. Though his numbers were down compared to the year before, he still became the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts.
He was starting to feel more like himself midway through the season, when he was invited to participate in Major League Baseball’s voluntary MRI program for projected top 50 picks. He got the MRI on May 6 and received word that the results were available on May 23, the same day he was due to pitch in AAC Tournament play against Wichita State. He didn’t open the results.
The game against Wichita State didn’t go as well as he hoped. Feole allowed four earned runs in five innings, though his team rallied for a win. The next week, he pitched in the NCAA Tournament and scuffled again, allowing seven earned runs in five innings of a loss to Nebraska.
“I would feel great in the first inning and then it would just go away,” Feole said. “Coming off the mound against Nebraska – you don’t want to blame anything but yourself – but I walked up into the clubhouse, took a seat and, in my deepest heart of hearts, I knew there was something wrong.”
On the bus back to the hotel, Feole looked at the MRI results. He had a torn UCL and a detached MCL. It was stunning, but it provided an explanation for Feole’s suspicions.
While the news sunk in, Feole watched his UConn teammates win three straight games before bowing out to Oklahoma State in a winner-take-all regional title game. The end of the road brought a wave of emotions. Feole’s UConn career was likely over amid uncertainty about his future.
“I sat down with my agent and my parents, talked about what our gameplan was in terms of draft day,” Feole said. “At this point, all 30 teams know there’s something wrong with my elbow.”
MLB Pipeline ranked Feole 163rd among draft prospects, which projects to the fifth round. Feole fell further than that, making for a tough second day of draft-watching. The second day of the draft ended at round 10, with Feole still on the board.
“To anyone who’s going to go through it, it is not anything like the NFL or the NBA when you’re in your nice suit and you throw a party,” Feole said. “Yes, there are guys who had those opportunities, guys I played with on Team USA like Adley Rutschman and Andrew Vaughn. That’s awesome for them. But for a guy with some question marks, it can be a very stressful day. I’m very lucky to have the support system and the family around me that I did to keep my head on straight and know that an opportunity is an opportunity.”
Early on the third day, Feole got a text from UConn teammate Jacob Wallace, whom Feole had celebrated with after Wallace was drafted two days prior. Feole opened Twitter and saw the news. The stress and uncertainty quickly faded.
“All the stress and everything you worry about with the injury and the surgery and thinking this is not how it’s supposed to happen, to then finally hearing your name called – it’s awesome,” Feole said.
The injury had its consequences. Signing bonuses in the 11th round are lower than the fifth, where Feole was originally projected to go, but that didn’t impact his perspective. The opportunity remains.
“That was a goal of mine dating back to like age 12. It’s crazy to say that. At age 12, you’re worried about winning your district championship at Central Coventry Little League,” Feole said. “At the same time, in the back of your mind, you’re like, ‘I think one day I can do this.’”
As he keeps his eye on the goal, Feole will draw on other detours, one in particular. Before his senior season at Prout, with draft buzz building, Feole felt another sharp pain, this one in his hip. He had a cyst removed that had to be tested for malignancy. The tests came back clean, but the experience provided perspective. Feole ended up pitching Prout to McCoy Stadium in his senior year, and the fading of the draft buzz led him to fulfill his commitment to UConn.
“That was definitely crazy and it kind of prepared me for this. It was almost like the same thing happened,” Feole said. “Stuff like that early in life prepares you and shows you the support system you have. And the strength of my faith is definitely something that has helped me tremendously as a person.”
The next chapter began with surgery July 17. Then Feole settled into his new home at the Padres spring training facility in Peoria, Arizona, where he’ll be until at least next fall. He’s confident he’s in good hands and just has to turn on a Padres game for proof. Rookie sensation Chris Paddack had Tommy John surgery in 2016.
Feole’s journey is underway.
“The real goal and dream that every little kid has, hasn’t been achieved yet for me, but I’m inching a little bit closer and I have the opportunity to go do that,” he said. “It’s really special and it’s really important to me and my family. I thank God every day for all the opportunities and blessings he’s given me. I’m super excited to be part of the Padres organization and have the chance to compete and play professional baseball.”