ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill.–August is one of the favorite months of the year for Lansing Lugnuts middle reliever Tim Lavery. Sprints under the cruel Midwest sun, drills, camaraderie with teammates, the popping of . . .
For much of Lavery’s 22-year-old life, the popping in the eighth month was of pads. Since 1999, when the Cubs selected the lefthander in the 11th round out of Illinois, the popping as football season approaches has been of catchers’ mitts, and unfortunately for Lavery, of his left labrum in the fall of 1999.
The former Illini quarterback, who started five games in an 0-11 campaign in 1997, chose to concentrate on baseball after that season. The Cubs had selected Lavery in the 14th round of the 1996 draft out of Naperville (Ill.) Central High, but he had fallen back on the Illini football scholarship.
He tried to play baseball as well, but the demands of two Division I sports and school were too much.
"I always knew I’d play baseball, though," Lavery said. "It was just a matter of time. Coming into U of I, I knew I had a chance to play (quarterback) early, and had we had a winning program right off the bat, I’m not sure I’d be sitting here right now."
"Here" was Kane County’s Elfstrom Stadium in the Class A Midwest League. Not only is it a second home for the Lugnuts–in the heart of Cubs country–but it’s in Lavery’s childhood backyard, a stadium he used to frequent growing up.
Friends and family got to see him pick up a win against the Cougars with two shutout innings, another brick in the foundation of Lavery’s comeback from surgeries in 1999 and 2000. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder was 2-1, 1.90 over 71 innings in 25 appearances (24 in relief).
After 40 innings at short-season Eugene in 1999, Lavery had surgery to repair a torn labrum in November. Another surgery to remove bone spurs followed, after Lavery threw just 15 innings in 2000.
"It was tough," Lavery said. "After your first year of pro ball, you want to come in and impress people. I’d never been hurt before. I didn’t know how to handle it."
Lavery had done more than stay healthy this year. His velocity was down to the mid-80s, but his control of his fastball, curve and changeup–his best pitch–had been solid. He had walked 11 and struck out 47.