TCU pitcher Mitchell Traver enjoys a remarkable comeback

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    While junior starting pitcher Mitchell Traver enjoys a dominating season in his first full year back, more than just baseball has fueled his memorable journey.

    Mitchell Traver grew up in Sugar Land, Texas, and attended Houston Christian High School.

    During his senior season, he was a highly regarded prospect for the 2012 Major League Baseball draft and was projected to be selected between the first and third rounds.

    According to Traver, 27 of the 30 MLB teams met with him at his house before his senior year of high school.

    He said everyone was telling him to relax and to just act like a teenager.

    “Everyone plays baseball for a reason, and I play because I want to be a big leaguer,” Traver said. “When that dream was starting to come to fruition, I didn’t feel like a kid anymore.”

    During his senior season at Houston Christian, Traver felt discomfort in his right arm, but he kept pitching. He finally shut things down during a playoff game in late April. Then, three days before the MLB draft, he was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), a condition that causes a compression of nerves in certain parts of the body.

    Traver’s younger brother, Spencer, now a sophomore at TCU, was the student manager of the high school team and was in the dugout when he saw his brother struggling.

    “I knew something was wrong because he has a high pain tolerance, and he was grimacing after he threw a pitch,” Spencer said. “So I told our coach.”

    Mitchell had surgery to have a rib removed, and despite the setback, he was drafted in the 39th round, by the hometown Houston Astros. He opted to play baseball at the TCU to get healthy and improve his draft stock.

    In August 2012, the stress from his previous condition led him to alter his pitching mechanics. As a result he was unconsciously putting stress on his elbow, and he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, a reconstructive procedure to repair ligament damage in the elbow.

    Mitchell Traver took a redshirt his first year.

    During his second season, Mitchell was vying for the starting spot for the Tuesday non-conference games, but then he injured his back two weeks before the season started.

    He sat out most of the season, but he made his first collegiate appearance against Baylor in the Big 12 tournament on May 21, 2014. He lasted only one-third of an inning, giving up four runs on five hits, and was relieved by junior closer Riley Ferrell.

    Having played baseball together before college, Ferrell already had a friendship with Mitchell before they became suitemates in Moncrief Hall.

    When Mitchell was finally healthy in the summer of 2014, Ferrell wanted to make sure his friend took advantage of his opportunities.

    “I wanted to make sure his summer wasn’t going to waste and he was doing what he needed to do to have a role on this team next year,” Ferrell said. “I wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything that was gonna make him miss out from this year.”

    Mitchell’s journey back to the diamond was filled with uphill battles. He said the mental struggles outweighed the physical ones.

    “The summer helped me a lot,” he said. “It was huge just getting the innings in and proving I could be healthy, but also knowing what I was dealing with, with the deficiencies I had, the skills that I lacked and the things I needed to get better at.”

    Basically, Mitchell had to learn how to pitch at a high level.

    “I had to stay calm through that entire process,” he said. “When you grow up and baseball’s something you’re good at for a while and you start to be challenged, especially after coming off two years of injuries, it rocked my world for a little.

    “I had confidence issues, and I think that was huge for me to address that and be real about it because I could start building.”

    With TCU fresh off an appearance at the College World Series in Omaha, Mitchell just wanted an opportunity to pitch. Few people expected him to have the kind of season he’s put together so far.

    “In the fall I had lower hopes for him, just because I wanted him to play,” Ferrell said. “I didn’t care what role he was in. I didn’t expect anything other than him going out there and pitching.”

    Mitchell has done more than just pitch. College teams line up their best starters for the weekend series, and after dominating his first two Tuesday appearances, Mitchell got the opportunity to start critical games on Fridays. He is 6-2 with a 2.08 earned run average.

    The comeback story is no surprise to his brother, Spencer.

    “I’m the least blown away by this in the sense of I know what he had,” he said. “I know what he had in high school. I’ve seen it all develop, and for me I saw that he’s got the stuff, it’s not like that just went away. He came back stronger in my opinion.”

    Mitchell credits his growth as a person and a baseball player to his strong faith. He said his faith grew more after the injury.

    “I went from wanting God, to realizing I needed him,” Mitchell said. “I’d never really discovered that until he took baseball away. It wasn’t like I needed him for baseball; I needed him in general. I grew as a young man in a million different ways that affected a lot more things than baseball.”

    Ferrell said he was frustrated early on that he could not watch his friend do what he loved so much. He said it has been exciting to see how far Mitchell has come.

    “The biggest growth I’ve seen on the field is that going from high school where he just went out to prove he could throw hard to now and prove day in and day out he deserves to be on this campus playing baseball,” Ferrell said. “It’s been nice to sit there and watch him.”

    According to Ferrell, Mitchell is a great teammate who is always there for him and the rest of the team. Mitchell is also always willing to help people better their faith, he said.

    “He’s always been a good team guy,” Ferrell said. “He always tries hard in the classroom, always tries hard in the weight room. He has helped me with my faith as well. He’s got a good gift of just being there for people and being an open person to be able to go talk to.”

    Spencer has also seen his brother’s growth, adding that he is watching more than just another pitcher with a cannon for an arm.

    “He’s very involved,” Spencer said, “He doesn’t let baseball get in the way. The interesting thing about him is he’s not a baseball player; he’s a guy who plays baseball. He’s got a lot more to him than what you see between the lines. As much time as he spends on the field, he spends his time off the field even better. He invests himself in people’s lives. He’ll meet with guys and challenge them in their faith aspect.”

    Spencer said he and his brother are extremely close. He added they both enjoy taking hunting trips to their ranch and other exotic locations. The two always try to go to Texas Roadhouse before each of Mitchell’s starts.

    “We try not to talk too much baseball,” Spencer said. “It’s just a pre-game meal to get some food and talk about whatever’s going on.”

    Mitchell said his baseball blessing doesn’t make him any greater than any other person. He believes playing baseball is God’s calling to him.

    “Being a baseball player is no different than being a musician, a teacher, writer or a lawyer,” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day it’s a call, and the reason it carries such a special significance is because that’s where God has called me to be. I am thankful and I am blessed to be able to play baseball here at TCU.

    “Moreover I am thankful and blessed to know the people and have the friends I do away from the field. It’s way more than something that’s just about me, it’s always been about him.”