The long road back
By Matt Betts
Canadian Baseball Network
It is a long road for any athlete trying to make the college baseball ranks.
A lot of people cringe at the sound of cliches like the on just used but for Paul Neophytou there just is not any way around it.
See, Neophytou was just like any other high school player in Canada. He grew up playing for the Aurora Jays before moving on to another Jays uniform, the Ontario Blue Jays when he was 14 years old. It appeared to be going well for him, a promising young Canadian ball player in one of the best elite programs in the country.
Then, with one throw in a batting cage in March 2014 all of that came into question. Neophytou was struck in the left side of the head and broke his temporormandibular joint which allows for opening and closing of the jaw. The jaw bone near his left temple was fractured. He was knocked unconscious and was taken to hospital. He was diagnosed with the broken joint, a concussion and there was deterioration of the ocular nerve. As well, some of the pathways to his brain were distorted resulting in balance issues.
A concussion was nothing new for Paul as he experienced a few growing up playing hockey. His parents kept assuring him that it would get better as he had always had a quick turnaround with the injury before. Unfortunately, that was not the case this time around.
“We kept assuring him he would get better in a few days after some rest as he had a couple of concussions in hockey and that was the turn around time. Unfortunately that was not the case. We were chasing our tails. We saw a neurologist, a sports medicine doctor, family doctor, a couple of craniosacral therapists, an optometrist and the list goes on.” Elena Neophytou, Paul’s mother said. “Finally Dan Bleiwas of the Ontario Blue Jays was speaking to another family who’s son had suffered a concussion and put us on the trail of Dr. Peter Scheuring who was on the same team as the doctor who treated Sidney Crosby.”
Dr. Scheuring suggested that Paul do five sessions in a gyrostim chair (look it up, I had to.) Essentially what this did was create new pathways to the brain as some had been damaged. After three sessions, Paul was symptom free.
This is not to simplify the issue however as it took a lot of patience and physical pain to get to that point.
“At times I thought I was going to make it through no problem but as the symptoms kept prolonging I kept asking myself if it was worth it to continue with baseball,” Paul said.” “The darkest part of the injury was the recovery period and whether or not I would have a future in ball. I had to workout and push myself to the point where I was just about to be sick (where all symptoms were on verge of coming on)and then stop.”
This mental and physical pain would be enough for some to give up and not bother with attempting a comeback but Paul was not one of them. In fact, Paul believes this injury will not allow him to play baseball but rather make him a better player.
“Not only was this an experience for me as an athlete but it taught me a lot about never giving up and always fighting for what you stand for and what you believe in and most importantly, never ever take anything for granted.” Paul said. “Everyone kept pushing me to make it through my injury.”
Paul is now geared up and ready to go for his freshman year at Concordia University in Ann Arbour, Mich. Paul admits that he could not have done this on his own. The support of his family and friends has been instrumental in this process.
My parents, sister and best friend Travis Dermott were the ones who helped me stay positive throughout my injury.” Paul said. “The driving force that kept me focused was achieving my final goal of playing college baseball and believe me every day was questionable.”
So just how does Paul Neophytou describe himself as a player?
“I’d say my biggest assets are my speed and ability to bunt as well as gap to gap hitting. My speed also contributes to another asset of stealing bases,” Paul said. “What I want to improve on is my arm speed, power at the plate and even drop my 60 time to a lower speed. I anticipate plays and always try to stay one step ahead. There’s always room for improvement and everyday I work on something.”
Paul will be studying business finance while at Concordia and hopes to be on the honour while bringing a championship back to Coach Johnston and the Cardinals. It has been exciting since Paul first figured out Concordia was the school for him. It is a dream come true for a Canadian who always dreamed of playing college baseball.
The list of people to thank could be a story of its own as it is not only his family and friends (although those are the obvious.)
“I’d like to thank my coaches that I’ve had throughout my years of playing baseball and of course my teammates,” Paul said. “I’d like to thank Ontario Blue Jays trainer Chris Walsh and Dr. Scheuring for taking the time to help me with my recovery in order to fulfil my childhood dream.”
Concordia is not only going to get a well groomed baseball player on the field but also one mentally tough young man off of it.