Jared Winslow took the signs from his catcher before settling back into his windup to deliver the pitch. The rising senior at Libby High School had dominated at the Class A American Legion baseball tournament in Miles City, racking up 14 strikeouts against the hosts.
This pitch would be different, though.
Winslow uncorked a fastball – the kind that usually fired out of his hand like a cannon, nearing 90 miles per hour. This once chunked the dirt off the plate and skipped to the backstop, but all Winslow could remember was the sound.
“It felt like a gunshot going off,” the 17-year-old three-sport standout remembered. “You could hear it as much as feel it.”
With Montana State-Billings head baseball coach Rob Bishop in the stands scouting him, the ulnar collateral ligament in Winslow’s high-powered right arm snapped with a force that numbed the pitcher’s dangling hand.
A split second of extreme strain tossed Winslow’s athletic future and his chance for an education in that vein immediately in doubt. Could Libby’s quarterback, point guard and star pitcher be finished just like that?
• • •
Jared Winslow started playing baseball about as early as he started school in Libby, but his sporting ways weren’t confined to the diamond. He golfed and played baseball in the summer, switched into football pads with the crisp of fall and took shelter in Libby’s basketball gyms with winter’s cold.
Throughout his prep career, he suited up in Libby blues for all three sports – and with much individual success.
“He ended up with some opportunities to play at the next level in basketball, baseball, and football,” said Wally Winslow, Jared’s father and the Loggers varsity boys’ hoops coach.
It hasn’t always been easy to juggle and the Loggers have seen their struggles even with the talented 6-foot-1 athlete in uniform. Libby football is a combined 4-14 in the last two seasons with Winslow starting full time under center and the Loggers’ basketball team hasn’t seen a winning season while he’s attended high school.
But Winslow has an infectiously positive attitude, be he even discussing an arm injury that could have ruined his playing days or Libby basketball’s frustrating 1-14 season.
“We try to lead by example, give the best encouragement we can,” he said of he and Quinn Sullivan, the only Logger seniors on this year’s team. “You’ve got to be positive, not melt down and make (the younger guys) not want to play.”
After averaging better than 14 points a game in each of the last two years while running the point, Winslow is up to 18.1 as a senior – the second best mark in Northwestern A hoops. That all comes despite an easy-to-follow game plan among opponents: Keep the ball out of Jared Winslow’s hands.
“It’s difficult because he draws the majority of the defense every night we play ... but that’s part of the game,” the elder Winslow said. “Nobody’s doing it to be mean to him. It’s one of those things you get when you spend a lot of time in the gym and you work real hard. You earn a lot of respect from people.”
Or as the junior Winslow puts it peppered with his signature magnetism: “You get to have some good conversations with kids in the corner when they’re guarding ya. It’s a little frustrating, but at the same time it’s kind of like a badge of honor if you’ve got the guy guarding you in the face all night.”
• • •
The week after Winslow’s elbow failed last June, he saw a doctor in Kalispell and had an MRI. Soon after, the diagnosis came in about the ligament tear.
An assortment of medical options weaving in and out of his conscious, Winslow first went outside to see if it was feasible to teach himself to throw left-handed. A natural lefty – he swings golf clubs and baseball bats from that side and only pitches with his right – Winslow couldn’t quite make it work.
He’d need Tommy John surgery to pitch again – an important point since he would soon verbally commit to play for MSU-B and Coach Bishop – but it could wait, the doctors ruled. Throwing a football did no extra damage and basketball wouldn’t hurt either.
“It’s so much of a different motion,” Winslow explained.
Tommy John surgery, a procedure which takes its moniker from a former major league pitcher and guinea pig of the same name, is a surgery in which the UCL that connects the upper and lower arm bones is replaced in the elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.
The procedure has become quite common in baseball players. A recent study by renowned surgeon Dr. James R. Andrews’ American Sports Medicine Institute suggests success in as many as 80 to 90 percent of patients.
“With all the extensive rehab – which is quite difficult – he has the chance to get back and even be better than he was,” Wally Winslow said. “It’s not because of the surgery itself, but because of all the rehab, the strength training that goes with it.”
• • •
Full recovery time from the surgery extends beyond a year and can reach as long as 16 or 18 months. With Winslow penciled in to go under the knife this April, that leaves one big question: What will a kid who never takes a break from sports do without the games for so long?
“I’ll probably be a little stir crazy, wanting to go out and do something,” he said. “I’ll have to find more ways to mow the lawn and wash dishes to keep myself busy.”
Then there’s the Loggers baseball team that will have to be without its best player this summer, Winslow’s last eligible season. He has a career ERA under 2.00 with the Loggers, posting a sparkling 0.59 ERA over 76 innings last year with 132 strikeouts to just 14 walks.
That came with a .392 batting average at shortstop when he played in the field as well.
Winslow made the jump up to Legion ball a year early at age 14 after tossing a no-hitter early that season and joined the travel team because of low turnout numbers. Since then he’s been an institution for the Loggers, said Kelly Morford, the team’s manager.
“I’m gonna have to do a little more coaching this year,” Morford said. “We could run him out there once ever five or six days, just sit back and chew sunflower seeds and watch the game.”
Though he might not be on the field, expect Winslow to have a seat saved in the dugout.
“I’ll be a bench coach maybe, work on my coaching speak,” he quipped.
His old coach isn’t ready to joke about the injury, though. Morford had never seen first-hand a UCL tear in his years of coaching and that day last summer still sticks in his mind.
“It just happened,” Morford recalled. “He threw a wild pitch – which he doesn’t do very often. When I looked up at the mound and saw him cringing and holding his arm, I knew something was wrong.
“It’s something as a coach you beat yourself up about, hoping you took care of his arm the way you’re supposed to,” he continued before turning to Winslow’s still promising college pitching career. “A lot of times it would be the end of the road but I think in a case like Jared’s, he’s got so much ability and is such a good kid with excellent grades, as far as I see it it’s a no-brainer.”