Fighting His Way Back to the Mound
Every boy dreams of taking a baseball field of a World Series game with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning.
They dream of throwing strike three or staring a pop fly into their glove to record the final out.
Freshman right-handed reliever Mathew Troupe lived that childhood dream of pitching the final out of a championship series.
In the final out of the 2012 College World Series, Troupe watched from the mound, pointing to the sky as the 2-1 pitch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth was caught by right fielder Robert Refsnyder to clinch Arizona’s fourth national title.
All Troupe remembers is a wave of Arizona players and coaches rushing the mound with wide-open smiles, yelling at the top of their lungs, letting the world know that they were college baseball’s best.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2013 and a different emotion is shown by the junior pitcher. Instead of hearing fanfare and Bear Down, Troupe hears the sound of a faint clicking sound made by the brace when he moves his right arm as his therapeutic coach tells him how many more reps are in a set as he pushes toward recovery.
This was supposed to be the year that Troupe was going to make the leap from his role of reliever the past two seasons to working into the starting rotation. Unfortunately, it didn’t play out as planned for the young pitcher from Northridge, Calif.
In October of 2013, Troupe had a feeling in his right arm that didn’t feel quite right.
“It was a built up thing,” Troupe said. “I tossed the ball about 40 feet and it felt as if a lighter was right up against my elbow. But I kept throwing pitches to try and shake it off, but it kept getting worse and worse, burning more and more.”
Troupe knew something wasn’t right, and he brought the issue to head coach Andy Lopez and his staff’s attention.
Troupe was shut down from November to January in hope of a recovery in time to start the 2014 campaign. He was able to return for his season debut Feb. 15 against Kent State, but said after his outing, something felt wrong.
“First game of the season, it didn’t go too terribly,” Troupe said. “But I knew after that game - the way it felt in the morning - I felt as if I had just thrown 200 pitches.”
Troupe again informed the coaches of his soreness and they gave him a day off to recover.
“They gave me the start that Tuesday against Utah Valley,” Troupe said. “I threw one pitch in warm-ups, and I just knew something was wrong. My velocity was down and my placement was off.”
After discussions with team doctors, it was decided that Troupe needed to undergo Tommy John surgery, which is the more common term ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction.
Tommy John surgery is a surgical graft operation where the UCL in the elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body. The operation is a common among collegiate and professional baseball players.
The average time span for recovery is between six and eight months with constant rehab to work back up to full strength, but Troupe has no doubt that he will recover from it even stronger than before.
“I don’t lack any confidence,” Troupe said. “And there is no way I don’t come back stronger. I want to prove that I am one of the top closers in the country.”
Though the confidence is there, he still has a looming decision to make. Troupe was drafted by the Yankees in the 16th round in 2011, but chose to play for the Wildcats. Because he is a junior, he is again eligible to be selected in this year’s upcoming baseball draft.
Will he decide to live the childhood dream and play in the majors, or will he come back and give the Cats one more year?
“I can’t say at this point,” Troupe said. “I will consider all angles. I won’t make a decision until everything is all laid out in front of me. I am one year away from earning my degree, but we will see when the time comes.”
Anybody who’s been playing baseball as long as Troupe has knows that you can’t play baseball forever. He knows it as well as anyone and has also thought about life after baseball.
As an All-Pac-12 All-Academic member in 2013, he knows the importance of an education. Majoring in agribusiness and economics with a minor in business administration, Troupe has aspirations of being his own boss with his own employees once he finishes his baseball career.
“I would love to run my own business, or even run my own farm out in California,” Troupe said. “My dream scenario would be that my arm comes back healthier and stronger, make it to the majors at some point and have a great 10-year career.”
However, getting back to the level Troupe is accustomed to won’t be easy. Troupe has been rehabbing nonstop to get back on the hill.
“The tough part of rehabbing is stretching it all out, getting full extension and flexion,” said Troupe. “But it’s something that I got to do. But I know if I rehab real hard, I can get back out there sooner than later. When my arm comes back stronger, I’ll prove that I’m the best closer in the country.”
Troupe does think about what the future holds from time to time, but he is still 100 percent committed to this year’s season, rehabbing his arm and mentoring his brothers on the team. Although it isn’t exactly easy to just sit back and watch.
“I want to be there for them, they are my teammates,” Troupe said. “Coach Lopez has made us feel like family. I do everything I can to help them, but I can only do so much.”
“It’s tough just watching them,” Troupe said. “I have to lead by example. Especially my bullpen guys, they ask me questions and I do what I can to help them. Whenever they’re in a slump, you tell them to focus and push through it. Slumps are going to happen, but it’s how you respond that matters. It’s like my injury. It happened and the only thing I can do I push through the pain and do everything I can to come back stronger and healthier.”
Injuries are humbling realities that can occur at any time when competing at a high level.
“You never think of getting injured like this,” Troupe said. “But it’s something that happened, and something I can’t control. It’s only a speed bump for me.”
In the role of a closer the majority of his pitching career, he has taught himself to not think too far ahead about what his future might hold.
“As a closer you don’t think like a rotational starter,” Troupe said. “They think three, four, five innings in advance. As a reliever, I think maybe three to six pitches or outs at a time.”
In seven to 11 months, Troupe will complete rehab and return to normal. Once the brace is off, the therapy completed, the pain is gone and the cheering from the bench is over, he’ll have a small but significant reminder of what it takes to climb back to the top. Nothing more than a five inch scar running perpendicular to his elbow where the doctors made the incision.
Whether he goes in the draft this year, or gives the Cats one more season, Mat Troupe will continue to grind it out to prove to everybody that he is the best at what he does.“I have a lot to prove to people,” Troupe said. “I have to prove to doubters, who say I can’t come back from an injury like this wrong. It’s not an easy road, but I’m working as hard as I can to get healthy again and show that I belong on the mound.”