After ‘down goes Fraser’ Zion is a lion again
New London — An unintended consequence of small talk, particularly as it relates to high school athletes, is the stressor tethered to the otherwise innocent question, “so where are you going to play in college?”
It may be nothing more than a frame of reference or conversation starter. But angst builds for those who don’t know the answer.
Zion Fraser never had such concerns. Until one day he did. Fraser knew by the time he was a junior at Ledyard that he was headed to pitch at Division I Stony Brook. Questions answered. Division I. Mic drop.
And then came the day the kid who worried about very little came face to face with a perilous future.
“Junior year (2022) at Ledyard. I think it was May 25th. Something like that. The play-in game of the ECC tournament at Woodstock,” Fraser was saying earlier this week. “I was at 40 or 50 pitches in the first inning. We couldn't make a play. I couldn't throw a strike. By the third inning, I threw a slider and I felt the pop of my elbow. I knew something either tore or cracked. I threw another pitch, a fastball and then I was down on the ground.”
It wasn’t long until Fraser, who started that tournament game in question after catching a full game two days earlier, learned he would need Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament inside the elbow.
Would he ever pitch again?
What would rehab feel like?
Would Stony Brook yank the offer?
Why did this happen?
All questions that would challenge well adjusted adults, let alone a high school kid finding his way.
“I was scared. I was scared about the next year because I just knew right away this was going to suck,” Fraser said. “I lost my summer and the fall. Plus, the offer was in the back of my mind, too.”
There was more.
“There was doubt. Sometimes I’d wonder if I was ever going to come back,” Fraser said. “Then there'd be a couple of days or weeks when I'm throwing the ball and feel extra strong. Then it’s two or three weeks when it’s ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ It’s been up and down the entire way.”
Happily, Fraser is playing baseball again, now at St. Bernard. He’s not pitching competitively — yet — but has been a contributor to the best baseball season at The School On The Hill in years. The Saints have a legitimate chance to win the ECC tournament next week and play well into June.
“Zion is a competitor. He competes every single day. Incredible teammate. I loved having him,” said Montville coach Scott Chaisson, who coached Fraser at Ledyard. “I wish I could have him on my team again. I don't care if he plays one inning. That’s how much he meant.”
Fraser listed Chiasson, as well as pitching instructor Dennis Long and the gang at G’s Fitness & Training among the most influential people during the rehab process. He’s in his 11th month and will start pitching in earnest fairly soon.
“Scott told me that during the throwing program, don't count the days. Go week by week and don’t worry about when you can start doing more,” Fraser said, alluding to how Chiasson’s advice was particularly helpful given that he underwent Tommy John surgery during his professional career.
What began as a “super tight” elbow in rehab — “I couldn't move my elbow, extend it or flex it, no matter how hard I tried. It felt stuck” — to now, where’s he in a throwing program and back on the mound. It won’t be long. (And Stony Brook still wants him.)
“I've definitely learned a lot, like how to focus on slowing everything down. Getting everything back happens slowly. So don’t rush things,” Fraser said. “I didn't really want to come back and then be right where I was. I want to come back and already be past that. I’m just so happy to be back.”
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro