BY MICHAEL KELLY
For a full year, the same thought motivated John Prendergast to keep pushing.
“I just wanted to come back and help my team,” he said.
Prendergast, a 2011 Shenendehowa graduate, had lost his senior baseball season at Ithaca College to a tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his right pitching arm. His April 2015 surgery — Tommy John surgery, as its commonly known — put him on track to perhaps pitch for Ithaca if he wanted to try to continue his career as a fifth-year senior completing graduate work.
Prendergast did, and he succeeded in spectacular fashion this spring.
“It ended up working out pretty well,” he said, laughing. “I definitely didn’t think it would go like it did.”
Here’s how well it worked out: Prendergast — who finished his MBA this spring — made his permanent return to the field for Ithaca a year and three days after his surgery, and solidified his standing as the greatest pitcher in the history of the Bombers’ program. In an abridged final season for Ithaca, Prendergast went 6-0 with a team-best 2.63 ERA and was at his best when his team needed him the most. In the May 12-15 Empire 8 conference championship tournament, Prendergast was named the Most Outstanding Player after picking up a pair of wins while throwing 10 2/3 scoreless innings.
He started the first game of the postseason, and relieved in the championship-winning game for 3 2/3 innings to become the pitcher of record in the Bombers’ final game. He came back on short rest for that final stint against St. John Fischer College.
“I knew I could get a few more innings out of my arm that day,” Prendergast said.
The two postseason wins ended Prendergast’s college career with a 33-2 record, the most wins for a pitcher in Ithaca program history. Ithaca also won the Empire 8 league championship in all five years Prendergast was a member of the program.
“That’s all I wanted out of my surgery, to come back and throw a final year here,” he said.
Prendergast, 23, had injured himself early last season. After his April 2015 surgery, he could not throw again until September and then spent his fall and winter doing everything he could to try to get right for this spring.
“I tried to rush it,” he admitted.
Prendergast did throw early in the 2016 season for Ithaca, but had to shut it down for several weeks after that first attempt. His elbow, he said, was just too sore. His control was awful.
“That was demoralizing,” Prendergast said. “I’d worked an entire year to get back ready for something and it didn’t go the way I envisioned.”
He kept rehabbing, though, and made his second comeback attempt in mid-April. The result from that April 12 game — five innings pitched, two runs allowed and a win — let Prendergast know he was back.
“All the sudden, you wake up one day and it felt like I’d never had surgery,” he said. “It felt completely new.”
After pitching this spring, Prendergast said he experienced more soreness than in past years. But the rehab work he’d done helped him to recover quickly from each start and he again became the Bombers’ workhorse.
“I tried to squeeze everything into the end,” he said. “With all the rehab you do, your shoulder ends up feeling [strong], so my arm actually felt great,” he said. “I wanted to get as many starts in and help the team as much as I could in the time I had left.”
Prendergast said he’s unsure what’s next for him. He could look to put his MBA to use right away, but he also wants to see if his reworked right arm could lead to a professional career for him, either in the minor leagues or an independent league.
“Now that my arm feels healthy, I’d like to keep playing and see where it takes me,” he said. “I want to see it all the way through and see what happens.”