One year ago Cody Gaertner was recovering from surgeries. Now he’s up for an award given to college baseball’s best catcher.
A lot has changed in the last year for Cody Gaertner and his team.
A year ago, Gaertner was on the bench, where he’d sat the whole season, resting his shoulder after major surgery and watching his team struggle through an 11-40 campaign. Now, Gaertner is back in uniform, 16 months removed from surgery, and playing every day for Ohio.
This year’s Bobcats have already seen much more success than they did in 2014. Ohio is 17-12, and Gaertner has done well enough standing next to the plate and crouched behind it to get his name on the watch list for the Johnny Bench Award — an honor given to college baseball’s top catcher.
“He’s been strong, hasn’t had to miss any time because of (the shoulder),” Ohio coach Rob Smith said. “So that’s been probably the biggest thing. We knew he was a good hitter coming into the year, we just didn’t know how long it would take him to get into live action. But he got it going right away, and he’s been outstanding.”
Gaertner, a Pittsburgh native who graduated from North Allegany High School, was the Bobcats’ starting catcher for each of his first two seasons, recording a .305 batting average during that span. But he saw a doctor in July 2013 to inquire about shoulder discomfort and discovered a pair of major injuries: a torn labrum and a torn rotator cuff.
Gaertner hoped for a chance at returning to the field last year, so he put off surgery. But the injury wasn’t going away, so in January 2014, he went under the knife and officially began his rehabilitation process.
“I started off with movement stuff the day after surgery,” Gaertner, a redshirt junior, said. “It took me about four months to be pain-free, after six months I started throwing, and I took that really gradually. This fall I was still trying to rehab it. I had to sit out the first two weeks because I couldn’t even throw to bases, so it’s come a long way since then.”
Gaertner’s injury was one of many that plagued the Bobcats during their tumultuous 2014 season. Ohio also lost its backup catcher, redshirt senior Kyle Dean, because of a broken thumb suffered two games into the season.
Dean said Gaertner’s recovery wasn’t an easy one.
“With any position at all, a labrum surgery can be really hurtful to the team,” Dean said. “But especially for catching, you really want to get back to where you were. You usually don’t because of how devastating that injury can be, but he’s been able to work his arm back to where he can throw pretty much every game, and when he’s not, he’s resting it.”
This season, Dean and Gaertner have platooned at the catcher position, with Gaertner typically catching Friday and Sunday games. Dean usually catches in the middle of the week and on Saturdays. When Gaertner isn’t behind the plate, he serves as the team’s designated hitter.
Smith and his staff decided that Gaertner and Dean would share the role to allow Gaertner to transition back into the everyday catcher’s role.
Gaertner has already shown his bat is at full strength. He started the season by with 19 hits and 13 RBIs in the team’s first 13 games, after which he was named to the Johnny Bench Award watch list.
“That was an awesome nomination,” Gaertner said. “I couldn’t be more happy about it. I think just being in that situation, it puts something on my shoulders that I need to live up to. But I couldn’t be happier about even being nominated for that. Those are the best catchers in the country.”
He has since continued to be a force for the Bobcats, hitting .303 in the middle of the order while scoring 19 runs and driving in another 21. Gaertner has provided senior clean-up hitter Jake Madsen an extra cushion in the middle of the order because his production gives opposing pitchers less incentive to pitch around Madsen and gives him the opportunity to see more strikes.
Gaertner may not have the stand-alone numbers necessary to stay in the running when the watch list is narrowed for the semifinal round on May 14, but he still has one more year in a Bobcats jersey and plenty more opportunities to make himself eligible for the award.
And for the time being, Gaertner is doing exactly what his team needs him to do to help the team win.