By Barrett Segesta
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Year after year the resilience of athletes is displayed for fans to indulge in. Media outlets attempt to squeeze every emotion they can out of fans through stories of comeback wins, against-all-odds triumphs and the ability of one athlete to rise above career-threatening injuries to stardom. With so much to take in, people gravitate to the heart-warming to the tales of an injury-riddled athlete down on their luck. Despite suggestions by doctors, these athletes don’t quit. No, they become stronger, hurdling each challenge that is set before them. Observing the path of these special athletes who return to compete at a higher level not only speaks volumes of their character, but also lends inspiration to those around. Stories like these are why fans religiously follow sports and rep their teams’ colors like their countries flag. Stories like these give the people hope that no matter the size of the weight, it can be lifted off one’s shoulders. Luckily for Horned Frog baseball fans this season, they have seen their own phoenix rise from the ashes.
Coming out of high school in 2012, right handed-starter Mitchell Traver was a highly recruited prospect. Decorated with accolades Traver signed with TCU hoping to continue his successes at the next level. These dreams however had to be put on hold. In the summer of 2012, Traver was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: a very serious condition that can cause the compression of various nerves in the upper body leading to serious pain to the neck, arms, shoulders and hands. The injury is caused by repetitive stress applied to an area on the human body, such as the consistent torque that wears on an arm or shoulder after firing fastballs to home plate. Due to the severity of this injury, Traver had a rib removed to help with blood flow in his shoulders. But the treatment did not stop there. Traver, due to the pain in his elbow, would be required to have Tommy John surgery sidelining him for the upcoming season. Already injured before throwing out his first pitch in college, Traver stayed surprisingly positive with the aid of his strong faith.
“My Faith is the foundation of who I am,” Traver explained. “I guess God needed to teach me a few things. A lot of it dealt with things that didn’t really pertain to baseball but more so who I was as a young man and dealing with that maturation process. I think as I walked along, I just continued to seek him out and he was faithful. Whenever I needed him he was there, and that is where my strength came from. “
Traver determined to get back on the field rehabbed himself back to full strength. He was ready for the start of the 2014 season to finally get his chance to pitch at the collegiate level. Unfortunately, the end of Traver’s injury woes were far from over. This time diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back, Traver had to continue to sit out and wait for his turn. To him it didn’t make much sense. All his hard work in rehab had just been scrapped leaving him to begin his road to recovery all over again.
“I was confused,” Traver said. “I had progressed through so much already, and I had gone through the hard part of rehab. Being healthy, right before the season started, my back injury showed up and I didn’t understand why. There was a moment there where I wondered, ‘am I actually going to play again?’ I remember coming back towards the end of that spring, before I made my debut in the Big 12 tournament and I was still in pain, I wasn’t throwing very hard. I thought, ‘is this how it’s going to end.’”
Set back by another injury Traver was determined to push forward and return to the diamond. Once again using faith as his guide, Traver shed light on this dark time growing stronger both physically and mentally.
“The scripture is huge, it is like my road map,” Traver said. “For anything I do, scripture will be my nourishment, but even just going out and pitching, my routine in the first inning, I always pray before the first inning starts, then I carve a cross in the back of the mound, It’s just a reminder of why I play. The reason I am out here is because he has called me to play the game of baseball and ultimately when he tells me to stop I will. I had faith and trusted it knowing you are going to play as long as you are suppose to. If that ends next month, then it ends next month and He’ll take care of you. If it’s 20 years down the road, you hope it is and sure enough slowly but surely God brought me back.”
At the beginning of 2015 Traver was finally healthy with nothing to hold him back. .
“One of the things I worried about was gaining the respect of my teammates and being able to be one of the guys, while also not seeming like a free-rider. I know they knew I wasn’t acting like I was hurt, and that I didn’t want to be hurt. But I thought after awhile they might say, ‘ok, Traver is on this team but he hasn’t done anything yet.’ I was worried about that happening but they were gracious. Even guys that were really talented like Brandon Finnegan and Andrew Mitchell. Everybody from them, to the guys that didn’t play anymore than I did, they all picked me up and were supportive. They treated me like a friend and a teammate and that is a huge part of why I came back like I did.”
Holding his strong faith and support of teammates in hand when he takes the mound, Traver has started off the 2015 season on fire. In his seven starts, Traver is an impressive 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA and a team high 39 strikeouts. Traver has provided a spark for the strong Horned Frogs but insists that there is much more to the team’s success this season. Humbly he credits his success to God and his teammates, happy to simply aid his team with the tools he has been blessed with. Watching Traver now, fans would never guess that this is his first season as a collegiate starter. As he offers up sound advice to others struggling through injuries, it feels like for Traver these injuries were all just apart of the plan.
“I would say that as cliché as this sounds, there is always a reason for what is happening,” Traver said. “A lot of it may have to do with who you are mentally or spiritually at the time. Even if someone doesn’t believe in God, off the field, it’s just who they are as a person. I believe that every day of these injuries equipped me for what He is calling me to do. So you have to know going into it that these times are going to give you what you need to go out and take on the responsibilities that will be bestowed upon you in the future. So my words of encouragement are to keep the faith. Take it one day at a time, it’s all intentional and purposeful.”
After bouncing back through injuries it is clear that Traver is happy to step back on the pitcher’s mound. As a man of faith and determination, Traver is the perfect example to athletes who are struggling to get back onto the field. Always wearing a smile, anyone who is around Traver can’t help but notice that he is finally at peace with where is in life and how he got there.