The fate of Adam Grap's baseball season lay in the prognosis of an Alabama orthopedic surgeon several weeks ago. But now the Mount Hebron senior standout is surprisingly casual about the extent of his injury.
Injuries happen to everyone, he said, recalling the trip he and his father took to visit James Andrews in Birmingham, who has performed scores of surgeries on Major League Baseball players.
"It was a big deal, I guess, but I have been through some injures before," Grap said. "You twist your ankle, stuff like that. You get used to it. You try not to get worried."
This wasn't a twisted ankle though. Andrews diagnosed rotator cuff tendinitis in Grap's right throwing shoulder but said there would be no surgery.
"He was really close to not playing this year," Coach Matt Forsyth said. "It was a really tough decision for a 17-year-old kid to make, thinking I should probably get this done so I don't have to worry about it anymore, but also realizing if he does get it done, he is definitely going to miss this season."
Instead of surgery, Andrews recommended a training regimen of weight-lifting, stretching and no throwing for at least a month, allowing Grap to rehabilitate the injury while finishing his high school career.
"If it was worse, I would rest the high school season and play summer ball," said Grap, who will play next season at Division I Stetson University in DeLand, Fla. "It doesn't look like it will come to that at all. He said a lot of throwers have this problem. Basically, if you throw as much as I do, you will eventually have some kind of problem."
So Grap opened the season not on the shelf but on the bench as Mount Hebron's designated hitter.
He still hopes to return to the field, either at catcher or as a middle infielder later in the season, but his contributions at the plate have been more than enough so far.
Grap opened the season with two home runs and seven RBI in a win over Long Reach and hasn't stopped hitting since. Through six games -- during which Mount Hebron is 5-1 -- Grap has hit .450 with three home runs and 17 RBI.
He had 19 RBI all of last season and just one home run.
"I knew he could hit, but I didn't know he could hit with such power," Forsyth said. "We were taking [batting practice] the other day, and he probably hit about 15 out, one up on top of the school. That's a rope. . . . It's tough to DH, sitting around, and he comes off the bench and does what he does. To me, that's just incredible. It would be nice to have him defensively; he is a great catcher, but whatever we get from him is fine."
His presence in Mount Hebron's lineup has sparked the Vikings to an unlikely resurgence, one fueled in part by Grap's bat but also from the contributions of several juniors, the "nobodies" from last year's county championship squad, as one player put it.
"I guess just because you graduate all those seniors, guys like John Zabel and my brother [Nick Hoffner], guys who were big for us, there are a lot of question marks, you know," said junior outfielder Andrew Hoffner, the team's leadoff hitter this season. "I kind of came in just hoping we would be a .500 club, but obviously we are doing a lot better than that."
Hoffner had reason for concern. Grap, one of three seniors, was the only returning player to hit over .300 last year, and the members of the team's pitching rotation threw exactly zero varsity innings last season.
Neither pitching nor hitting has been a problem, however. Junior left-hander Jonathan Raglin (2-1, 4.20 ERA) and junior right-hander Jeff Carr (1-0, 1.40 ERA) top off a rotation that has an ERA of 3.00 through six games, and seven of the team's starters are batting over .300, including junior outfielder Ricky Choi at a team-high .467.
"Nobody ever really expects much with us each year," Forsyth said. "Each season progresses, and we are usually a senior-dominated team, and the seniors that play, nobody has ever heard of them the previous year because they didn't get much time. That's the way it was last year when we had four seniors that just dominated our team, and nobody had ever heard of them. They were thinking, 'Oh, Hebron is going to be a below-.500 team.' "
The similarities between the seasons are clear -- with few expectations, the Vikings opened last year 4-1 with an unproven pitching staff and questions in its lineup.
The difference is this year's Hebron rebuilding has taken place with group of hard-working underclassmen.
Hoffner, Choi, Carr, Raglin, sophomore catcher Mike Michalski and Grap worked out together during the offseason -- at Mount Hebron and at the Baseball Factory Training Facility in Columbia -- with the shared goal of avoiding any letdown this spring. The Vikings have won the county championship two of the last three years.
"We don't want that winning to stop," Carr said. "Those championships were their time. This is our time, and we have to make of it what we can."