Blow of Shred's partial UCL tear softened by family lottery win

By: Alexis Brudnicki

Canadian Baseball Network

GOODYEAR, Arizona – One day, Darren Shred was sitting in the training room at the Cincinnati Reds minor league development complex in Arizona, learning that the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow was partially torn.

The next day, the just-drafted right-hander was back in that same training room, getting news from home in Brampton that his family had won the lottery. And not only that, but they were coming away with five million dollars from their winning ticket.

“Yep, that happened,” Shred said. “When I first found out, I was in the training room actually. After I tore my UCL I was in there and I had my phone on me and my mom [Tiia] called me. You’re not supposed to have your phone in there but my mom never calls me, so I picked it up and she was screaming on the phone, ‘We won the lottery!’ I just said, ‘What’d you win, ten thousand dollars?’ And she said, ‘No, we won five million,’ and I thought, ‘That’s not possible.’

“And my trainer was trying to kick me out of the training room because I was on my phone, and I was trying to tell him my mom had won the lottery, but he told me to get out so I left. My mom said, ‘No, we really won the lottery,’ and she was crying on the phone, and it was pretty exciting.”

In shock, and in the midst of a whirlwind couple of emotional days, the former Ontario Blue Jays catcher and hurler told the first person he saw, Miles Gordon, the first of four Canucks and Ontario natives selected by the Reds and Canadian scout Bill Byckowski in last year’s draft, followed by infielder J.D. Williams and southpaw Isaac Anesty, all former members of the Canadian Junior National Team.  

“The first person I told was Miles,” Shred said. “I went into the lunch room here and I said, ‘You would not believe what just happened.’ He kept asking me and I told him my mom had just won the lottery. He kind of looked at me and smiled, and I said, ‘Like, the five-million-dollar lottery.’ He said, ‘You’re lying. You have to be lying.’ It was kind of surreal.”

With a sudden burst in household income, the Shred family slowly starting making some upgrades, first buying new cars, and now in the midst of building a new house, with some help from fellow OBJ parent Lawrence Collymore.

“I didn’t really believe it at first,” the young righty said. “We didn’t do anything different really. They bought new cars but nothing crazy. My dad [Larry] bought a truck and my mom bought a Cadillac. I bought my Mustang after the draft with my [signing] bonus, but they’re paying for it now. So I got a free car…

“Everything is kind of the same but it’s almost like you’re more relaxed. You don’t really have anything to worry about.”

That feeling was certainly a change in pace from how Shred was feeling on the field, going from the high of being selected in the 22nd round of the draft and being ready to enter the pro ranks, to being stuck waiting for a working visa to join his friends in Goodyear, to then experiencing pain in his throwing arm almost immediately after arriving.

“I was super anxious to get started,” he said. “Especially because all these guys were here, like Jade and Anesty and Miles. I was talking to them every night and they were telling me how it was going and what it was like, so I just wanted to get down here and get into games.”

With almost eight months in Cincinnati’s organization under his belt, the 18-year-old still hasn’t gotten into a game. With more than half that time on the back fields in Arizona, Shred has barely even stepped foot on a mound.

“It didn’t go well,” he said of his arrival. “I don’t even know when I got here but probably about three days after I got here I threw a bullpen, and about halfway through the bullpen my arm started to feel a little funny. Everyone says they get an initial snap feeling, and I didn’t get that. It was a tingly, uncomfortable feeling, so I kept throwing and calling fastballs, hoping for it to go away, and it never went away.

“So I went to the training room the next day and they said to give my arm a couple weeks off. So I took two weeks off, came back and started throwing again, and then it felt the same so I got an MRI and I had torn my UCL 40 per cent. I didn’t have to get Tommy John, but I had [platelet-rich plasma] injections.

“It’s two injections, and they take your blood out and spin it. They take all the plasma out, which is what heals it, and then they shoot it into where it’s torn. They take an ultrasound when they do it, so they showed me the before and after. A few weeks ago, I got another one and [the tear] had closed a good bit. At first it was 40 per cent and now it’s 19, so it closed off a good bit.”

Still working with almost one-fifth of his ligament torn, Shred has learned that it’s normal to play that way, and he is happy to do whatever he can in order to get back out on the field and into game action.

“Everyone has a tear usually, a little one,” the young pitcher said. “Not that much, but [former Cy Young Award winner] Roy Halladay threw his whole career with a 33 per cent tear, apparently. So you have to adjust your mechanics so you don’t put as much stress on it. They’re trying to figure out a new way for me to throw where it doesn’t stress there, but you can throw as long as it holds up.”

Shred’s progress has been helped by both the PRP injections, and an experimental brace designed to help take stress off of his elbow while he’s throwing.

“I felt different after the injections,” he said. “Right away, you have to go in a Tommy John sling, so your arm is really stiff. But when you come back it doesn’t hurt as much at all. Before, even when we were doing [pitchers’ fielding practice], underhanding the ball to first would give me a sharp pain in my arm, but now I’m long tossing and I feel fine…

“I was nervous to throw the first time. It was kind of weird. I didn’t want to put any stress on my elbow so I was slinging the ball with my shoulder almost. Once I got comfortable, it was a little better. But they gave us a new brace a company came out with.

“They gave it to the Reds to test, and it has little bands in it. You tighten them, and it doesn’t allow you to straighten your arm when you throw after you put a hard whip on it – it stops the tension. So basically after you throw the ball, your arm stays bent to keep the stress off it. At first it was weird to wear it, but once you get used to it, you don’t even notice it’s there. It definitely takes a lot of stress off, and I’m going to use it in games.”

So far, games are a foreign concept to the former catcher. Just weeks away from taking the mound again and seeing what he can do, Shred couldn’t be more excited for the season ahead.

“It’s been a grind here because I haven’t been able to pitch yet,” he said. “It’s been I don’t know how many months, but I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. The pitching coaches come watch you and stuff, and they work with you on your arm angle and all that. We work on dry mechanics off the mound, so they’ll review your delivery and all that stuff, but it will be nice to actually pitch…

“That’s what I’m most excited for. I’m excited to throw a bullpen. I haven’t thrown a curveball in I don’t know how long. So I’m excited for the everyday aspect of being back at it.” 

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Alexis Brudnicki

Baseball has been a part of Alexis' life since her parents took her brother to sign up for Eager Beaver Baseball in London. Alexis wanted to play and asked to sign up, too. Alexis played ball until the boys were all twice her size and then switched to competitive fastball. Her first job was as an umpire for rookies with the EBBA and since then Alexis has completed her education with an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario and graduate studies in Sports Journalism at Centennial College