During the Charlotte Christian baseball team's warm-up for the second game in its annual spring-break tournament in Florida last year, outfielder Griffin Gum was throwing when he felt pain in the back of his right throwing shoulder.
"It was just killing me," said Gum. "It was like that for the whole tournament and just ended up being like that for the whole year. It only got worse."
Gum tried to play through the pain but couldn't. He finished the season with fewer than 20 at bats, though he managed to average .571.
In June, he went to see Dr. James Andrews, a renowned orthopedic surgeon, in Birmingham, Ala. Andrews performed arthroscopic surgery to loosen the shoulder.
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Now his shoulder feels great and Gum, a senior, is taking advantage of his first full season on varsity by leading the area in batting average and helping Charlotte Christian to a share of the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association lead going into last week's series against Charlotte Country Day.
The injury "was definitely rough," said Gum, 18. "It was tough being out for a long time; physical therapy was a pain and tough to work through, but now I'm back."
The Knights are happy to have him. Gum is the leadoff hitter for Christian, batting .554 on the year with 19 RBIs, three home runs and 11 doubles. One of his home runs was a two-run shot to give the Knights the go-ahead run in an upset of nationally-ranked Providence High in the recent Jack Sink Invitational Baseball Tournament.
"One of the things that he does that helps him a lot is the fact that he squares the ball up as good as anybody I've ever coached," said coach Greg Simmons. "He really doesn't take a bad swing. ... He hits the ball hard."
Hitting didn't used to be his strength, but Gum said working with hitting coach Mike Shildt, a minor-league manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, helped improve his swing in the offseason.
Defensively, Gum - 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds - has impressive range in center field and before the surgery had one of the strongest arms on the field. He said the arm not as strong as it used to be but that he's sure he can get it back.
Gum said he's been working at his game for as long as he can remember. His father, Roger, played second base for the University of Kentucky.
"My dad just raised me playing baseball," he said. "He just had a Wiffle ball and bat ready for me when I came out of the womb."
Gum played basketball his freshman year but didn't stick with it. He likes watching football and basketball, but baseball is his main sport.
"It's funny, because you fail seven out of 10 times and it's a good day," said Gum. "It's frustrating ... but the feeling you get when you're completely healthy and playing to the best of your ability is just something that's unexplainable."
Gum is equally passionate about his position as chaplain on Charlotte Christian's student government. He organizes chapels at the school and enjoys public speaking and talking to the school about his faith.
"My faith is an important part of my life and I try to incorporate that into my everyday activities," he said. "Just trying to live every day to the fullest and honor God in everything that I do."
Simmons said Gum's leadership is as important as what he does on the field for the Knights.
"He's a phenomenal kid, a high-character kid that just does the right thing," said Simmons. "He's a real spiritual leader on our team."
The combination of leadership and skill earned Gum a scholarship to play next year at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Gum and Simmons sat down and started the recruiting process from scratch this year. Gum first heard about UAB his sophomore year, when Keith Madison, Roger Gum's college coach, gave Gum a list of his favorite college coaches in the country.
"He said if he could send his son anywhere he would send him (to UAB)," said Gum.
Simmons started calling college coaches at the beginning of this year, and Gum made an official visit to UAB in February. He enjoyed the visit, but UAB wasn't ready to make an offer. After Charlotte Christian's first game this season, a win against West Stanly, Gum got a call from UAB coach Brian Shoop offering him a scholarship, which he accepted.
"They still haven't seen me play, so they're totally going on what all the coaches and everybody said on my behalf," said Gum. "I mean, I've had tons of people call on my behalf and I'm so thankful for that. They've been a great blessing to me.
"I'm thrilled, I can't wait. Before, when I was going through the injury and everything, I had no idea if I was going to make it. Just to be able to have the feeling that I know I'm going on to the next level and I've got great coaches and great guys down at UAB, I'm really looking forward to it."
Gum has seemed an unlikely hero for a Christian team that lost star players including Ty Linton, John Kincaid and Jake Watson. But Gum said this team is closer than last year; they hang out on the weekends and enjoy playing together.
"The guys on this team are just a lot of fun to be around," said Gum.
To Simmons, Gum's performance this year is just what he expected. "Everyone asks me if I'm surprised, and it doesn't surprise me because he's that good," said Simmons. "His work ethic is equally as good. He's got a chance at being a really good college player."