Kaufman finds strength in road to recovery

After a long and hard battle through injury, junior pitcher Teddy Kaufman has finally found his home at USF.

As a senior in high school, Kaufman suffered through one of the toughest baseball-related procedures: Tommy John surgery, or ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction. In the procedure, an elbow ligament is replaced by another tendon in the body.

The amount of stress placed on an elbow over a period of time is usually the determining factor on whether the surgery is necessary. For Kaufman, the stress became too much during a high school state semifinal game.

“I was about 10 pitches into the game when it got to a point where it was unbearable,” he said.

Kaufman said the amount of pitching he did had a lot to do with the condition of his elbow.

“Every elbow has a certain amount of pitches,” he said.  “I threw a lot. It got progressively worse and it came to a point where I physically couldn’t throw.”

But surgery wasn’t an initial option. MRIs revealed inflammation and swelling in his left elbow. Kaufman decided to just take some time off and start a rehab program in hopes that the discomfort would go away.

Several months into the program, however, Kaufman’s elbow worsened and surgery was inevitable.

“At 75 percent max effort, (the pain) came back again,” Kaufman said. “I had no choice at that point. I already wasted six months by not having (the surgery). I didn’t want to waste more time by not having it again. It’s pretty much a guaranteed success rate.”

After undergoing the operation in October 2004, Kaufman missed his entire senior season at Killian High School in Miami.

Before the surgery, Kaufman was one of the most highly recruited pitchers in the greater Miami region, posting a 1.25 ERA while leading Killian to a state championship game as a junior. Kaufman was named second-team all-state and first-team all-county by the Miami Herald.

“He was one of the top players in the state of Florida,” said USF pitching coach Lazer Collazo.

But after the surgery things changed, and some of the programs recruiting him lost interest, not wanting to take a chance.

However, Kaufman’s “dream school” of Miami still had him on its radar.

“Once I had surgery, no other school would take a chance on me,” Kaufman said. “They didn’t want to pay for me to live there.  Miami kept a consistent line of communication with me.  Miami was probably my first choice regardless.”

Still recovering, Kaufman red-shirted his first year. In the following year, 2007, he was used in situational relief duties, but still wasn’t completely free of elbow pain.

With three years of college eligibility left, he decided to transfer to USF after his second year at Miami for “financial reasons.” USF provided other luxuries as well.

“There was a really good opportunity to come here and play a lot,” Kaufman said.

In 2008, his first season with the Bulls, Kaufman spent the first portion of the season as a middle reliever but settled in to a midweek starter role later in the year.  He posted a 5.23 ERA in 14 appearances.

In his last six starts dating back to last year, Kaufman allowed more than four runs only once.

Coaches, players and even Kaufman are beginning to believe the 5-foot-11, 185-pound talent is close to reaching his potential, a potential that was once very high.

“Even last year, especially toward the beginning of the year, (Kaufman) still wasn’t 100 percent,” Collazo said.  “If you look at his stats from the middle of last year to this year, he’s shown flashes of who Teddy is.”

Kaufman pitched a complete game against FAMU on March 17, striking out a career-high 11 batters and giving up no earned runs on three hits.

“I’m a long way out of surgery, so there are no effects from that,” Kaufman said. “Right now, I’m just trying to stay in pitching shape.”

USF junior pitcher Shawn Sanford said he respects the mental toughness it takes to come back from elbow surgery.

“It’s tough because everything’s going your way and all of a sudden you just can’t go anymore,” Sanford said. “I don’t think anyone deserves that. It takes a lot of heart to go through what (Kaufman) went through. You have to really like baseball.”

This year has been a struggle, as Kaufman is 1-3 with a 6.41 ERA, but Collazo said he knows what kind of player the junior can be.

“He worked hard with his rehab and did what he had to do,” Collazo said. “He’s a ‘bull guy.’ He’s one of those guys you want around the clubhouse. At the same time, he’s a good college pitcher.”