Elbow surgery and one-and-a-half years of rehabilitation have given Chad Hegdahl a new lease on his baseball life. Now, the former Ashland High all-star hopes to become the latest Ashland-bred player to make it big on the national stage.




The 6-foot-2 lefty helped the Grizzlies make the playoffs in each of his four years at AHS from 2001 through 2004, both as a pitcher and a slugger. His arm troubles started well before graduating from high school, but he still landed a scholarship at Feather River College, a small school in Quincy, Calif.




After leaving Ashland the pain in Hegdahl's throwing arm that had plagued him since he was a sophomore at AHS only got worse. He still remembers the day he decided to do something about it.




"It was the last game (of the 2005 Feather River season)," he said. "I was pitching a playoff game and I was throwing really well, then I got to the end and I was bouncing balls to home plate and I realized that something was wrong."




The first MRI suggested that Hegdahl could rest his way back to health, but after driving to San Francisco for a second opinion the former all-state selection decided upon a new course of action: ulner collateral ligament reconstruction. Known by players and fans as Tommy John surgery, the procedure typically calls for doctors to replace a ligament in the elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in the body, usually from the patient's wrist or hamstring. Thirty-three years after it was first performed, the roughly hour-long surgery has now practically become a right of passage for overworked high school pitchers, especially those like Hegdahl who start throwing as pre-teen Little Leaguers.




Pitchers who opt for UCL reconstruction have seen fantastic results. Often, patients come back as good as new or even better. There is a downside, however. Namely, the rehabilitation. It takes a full year after the surgery for pitchers to be able to throw again, then another year of throwing in order to reach their full potential.




The long road to recovery didn't deter Hegdahl, however, and in December of 2005 he went under the knife. It turned out to be the right decision. Once inside, doctors discovered that Hegdahl's ligament wasn't torn, but stretched so badly that it no longer could function properly.




After the surgery, Hegdahl followed in the footsteps of his former AHS teammate Bill Rowe and transferred to Oregon State University. There, Hegdahl has worked as the defending national champion's main bullpen thrower this season, helping to prepare the Beavers for lefties. He won't travel with the team to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series &

the Beavers face Cal State Fullerton on Saturday in the first round. Instead, Hegdahl will embark on the final stage of his comeback &

facing live batting, as a member of the Medford-based Southern Oregon RiverDogs. He's planning to join the team this weekend.




Hegdahl doesn't know how often he'll see action for the sixth-year amateur team, but RiverDogs' head coach Bill James is excited to have an arm once considered among the best in the state.




"He's coming off Tommy John surgery, but his arm is just fantastic right now and he's throwing really well," James told the Medford Mail Tribune. "We think this is going to be his breakout summer because his arm is finally back for the first time since high school ball."




Two years of rehab taught Hegdahl patience, however.




"Hopefully, I'll give them a couple good innings and see where it goes from there," he said. "I just need to get the work in. Throwing bullpen, you don't face live batters so definitely seeing live hitting in summer ball will help me in the fall."




After the summer season, Hegdahl plans on returning to Oregon State and working his way into the Beavers' rotation. He's also not ruling out first base. Hegdahl batted over .500 as a senior at Ashland.




"You never know," Hegdahl said of his chances of playing for the Beavers next season. "Every team needs left-handed pitchers."




Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.