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Tournaments  | Story  | 7/15/2021

Gaeckle Coming Back Stronger Than Ever

Sam Warren     
Photo: Gabe Gaeckle (Gaeckle family)
Heading into the summer of 2020, Gabe Gaeckle was looking forward to competing at the highest stages of competitive travel baseball and making a name for himself on the national level. However, in his first start of his summer season, the right-handed pitcher felt something was off.
 
“I first noticed that it took a little longer than usual to warm my arm up,” Gaeckle said. “In the first inning, I was pretty happy with where my velocity was at. But, after the third batter, I dropped down 10 mph, and my elbow hurt real bad.”
 
The No. 177 player in the class of 2023 went to the doctor the next day and was diagnosed with a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL), and was destined for Tommy John surgery at the age of 15. While Gaeckle just started to feel the pain in summer ball, his father Peter said the surgery might have been a long time coming.
 
“We saw four different orthopedic surgeons before we decided to do the surgery, and they all thought the injury was pretty old,” Peter said. “He might have been throwing with a messed up arm before, so we weren’t sure if we’d ever seen him throw fully healthy.”
 
After an arduous rehab process, Gabe made his first competitive pitching appearance at the 2021 PG 17u West Elite Championship in late June, 11 months after his surgery. Facing his first opposing batters in almost a year, Gaeckle showed off the hard work he’d put in on his road back to the mound. The Aptos, Calif. native reached 92 mph on his fastball, 7 mph faster than his Perfect Game personal best, and sat in the low-90s all day long. The young arm believed that he’d reached a new standard of performance for his play in his first appearance.
 
“I felt probably the strongest I’ve ever felt,” Gaeckle said. “Physical therapy and working on my arm has made me 10 times stronger than I was before.”
 
While Gaeckle feels fully recovered from his surgery, the righty’s doctors have still yet to clear him to make full starts or not require pitch count limits. For those reasons, Gaeckle may still not be performing at 100 percent, and his arm may have yet to reach its total capacity, leaving room for the pitcher to get even higher numbers in the near future. Despite his enthusiasm to break free from physical limitations, Gaeckle knows that he needs to take things slow to complete his full rehabilitation.
 
“My coaches told me from the get-go that I was going to feel amazing five to six months after surgery, but I just had to wait it out,” Gaeckle said. “It’s been really tough as my velocity, control and arm strength have been where I’ve wanted them to be. I want to progress faster, but my doctors keep telling me not yet.”
 
Gaeckle can now see the light at the end of his rehabilitation tunnel, but that has not made the process any easier. The 8th-ranked right-handed pitcher in California plays for the star-studded Alpha Prime 2023, who has a roster chock full of the best arms his home state has to offer. For a whole year, Gaeckle struggled with not being able to contribute for his squad.
 
“I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but it was really hard just to watch all my teammates compete that whole summer after surgery,” Gaeckle said. “Missing a whole year of summer ball and high school baseball was definitely rough, but I got through it and got ready for this summer.”
 
To get ready for the summer, the pitcher put himself through a rigorous training regimen to continue the road back to full strength. Gaeckle said he lifts six times a week, training his legs, chest, back, shoulders and overall mobility. While under unfortunate circumstances, Gaeckle believed that his rehabilitation taught him a lot about working out and strength training.
 
“I took a lot of the lifts from the physical therapy I was doing at home,” Gaeckle said. “I was doing physical therapy for over seven months, so I learned a lot from that, and it helped me understand what I needed to train to get better.”
 
Now, nearing the end of his recovery, Gaeckle’s strong work ethic has begun to show through in his recent performances, and people have been taking notice. After an intrasquad appearance and his debut at the West Elite Championship, the pitcher has gained more and more interest after his year away from the game.
 
“I’ve been keeping up conversations weekly with college coaches,” Gaeckle said. “After the start, programs have become more interested and have been wanting me to come out to their schools and have been checking in on me. It’s been pretty cool.”
 
The top California arm holds offers from a few Pac-12 schools and is looking forward to continuing his recruitment into 11th grade. Throughout his recovery, Gaeckle used his collegiate aspirations as an incentive to get back onto the field.
 
“I think what motivated me was wanting to play at the next level,” Gaeckle said. “Going into my junior year, things are starting to heat up, so I started working out and focusing on my rehab, and things are now starting to come together.”
 
As Gaeckle’s dreams come within grasp, the pitcher is itching to get back out on the mound. With hopes of showing what he can do at this week's 2021 WWBA 16u National Championship, Gaeckle continues to fight to perform at a full capacity.
 
“I just have to get cleared by my doctors and work my way up to a full start,” Gaeckle said. “Once I do that, I can really show what I can do.”