The game ended in a tie when it hit the two-hour time limit, a standard tournament practice, but it didn’t lessen the disappointment. For the first time, KB began worrying about baseball rather than just playing it. He pitched several solid games, but as the season progressed, he started making uncharacteristic errors. In July, he began asking his father for ice after games, something he had never done before. With all the games he’d been playing for different teams, KB had racked up a lot of innings. “My arm feels funny,” KB said. The number of teenagers needing Tommy John surgery, a complex operation in which torn elbow ligaments are replaced with tendons, has increased from nearly zero a decade ago to hundreds last year. Doctors cite the additional innings kids are pitching as a primary cause. “It’s not a natural motion,” says Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered the surgery for major-leaguers in the seventies. “Kids’ bodies are still growing, and their mechanics are not what they should be. It’s just too much at that age.”
Despite being an orthopedic surgeon himself, Karl left much of the decision-making about throwing to his son. When he tried to yank KB from one of his grade-school games, KB shouted back, “I’ve got a no-hitter. I’m staying in.” Karl didn’t fight him.