Former UM pitcher Eric Erickson acquired the nickname “Easy E” when he was in high school, and a coach bestowed him the moniker for his smooth delivery and how he made hitting his spots look so easy.
His once-promising career path to pro ball, however, has been anything but easy.
A journey that he calls “peaks and valleys for seven years” of two Tommy John surgeries in his six seasons at UM (2006-2012), shoulder surgery later in 2012 with the Staten Island Yankees and ultimate release from the Yankees’ Single A affiliate last August have all brought him back to the University of Miami — but not as a pitcher this time.
Erickson returned for the spring semester to complete the credits necessary to earn his master’s in arts and liberal studies while he recovers fully from shoulder surgery.
He is set to graduate on Thursday, and with his desire to play baseball professionally still burning, he will return to the pursuit of his dream upon graduation.
“Baseball is such a huge passion of mine. I don’t know where I’d be without it. I love the game and everything about it,” says Erickson, who will join the Normal (Ill.) Cornbelters of the independent Frontier League in late May. “Why would you ever give up on your dream? I know I’m a pitcher. I’ve always known it.”
The left-hander knew he was a pitcher with promise since graduating from Sarasota High as the Florida Dairy Farmers Class 6A State Player of the Year. His potential blossomed in Coral Gables, pitching to a 10-4 record and 2.50 ERA as a Freshman All-American in 2007, and then he earned an All-ACC second-team selection in a sophomore season that included a trip to the College World Series.
But that offseason he had to undergo Tommy John surgery for his injured elbow on his throwing arm. It would sideline him for the entire 2009 season, but even worse, Dr. John Uribe, who performed the surgery on Erickson, used an unproven method. The elbow only lasted 11 games in 2010 before he was sidelined again with the same injury, causing him to miss all of 2011.
Committed to getting the surgery done right this time, Erickson went to world-renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Through rehab, his arm was returning to normal.
More adversity remained, however. Erickson had not yet been granted a sixth year of eligibility. The spring semester of 2012 was less than a week away, and there still was no word from the NCAA.
“I’ve always had the strongest mind and self-control, but that was rock bottom. I was on the edge,” Erickson says. “I was being literally haunted by the thought of not being able to play baseball again.”
Erickson ultimately got his sixth season, and once completed, was taken in the 34th round of the MLB draft by the New York Yankees.
So this is where it finally all turns for the better, right?
Erickson now needed surgery on his left shoulder, which was nagging him going back to his final season with UM. The Yankees had him rehabbing until he was finally released in August 2013.
“Over the past handful of years, I didn’t know why this stuff was happening to me, but I knew that it had to be taken care of, so I just put my nose to the grindstone and worked as hard as I could — tirelessly,” Erickson says. “I guess people have to really go through some tough times to get what they really want. You hear a lot of stories like that, and I believe that’s true. I believe everything happens for a reason.”
So his comeback to baseball began by taking some time away from the game. He enrolled at UM for the spring semester to take the four courses remaining for his master’s.
He works 20 hours a week at the school’s Herbert Wellness Center and throws bullpen sessions in his spare time. NCAA rules don’t allow him to work with the current baseball team, but he will use the facilities and set up a net on his own in the bullpen to throw.
“He’s doing everything he can with his rehab program, with throwing and trying to get ready and trying to get another shot,” Hurricanes coach Jim Morris says. “He throws in the bullpen. I can’t see him up in my office. I just know he’s throwing. He knows what he needs to be doing.”
The comeback begins in Normal, Ill., which Erickson says will be interesting coming from Miami, a city he calls “normally abnormal.”
“You pull harder for guys that work hard and are role models, so I definitely pull for him and pull for him hard to get a break,” Morris says.
Erickson never thought he would walk once in graduation. He expected to serve three years in college and go high in the draft after his junior season. As it turns out, he’ll walk twice now and will have family and friends in town for commencement on Thursday at the BankUnited Center.
As far as baseball, he says his arm is feeling better than ever and his confidence in his pitching repertoire of fastball, curveball, changeup is peaking. His career goals remain the same.
“My ultimate goal is what it always has been: It’s to become a Hall of Fame pitcher in the major leagues,” he says. “Right now, after starting to throw bullpens, I really believe that I can do it.
“I finally feel like I’m going to get my true shot. I feel like it’s my time.”