Going back to baseball | CraigDailyPress.com

Going back to baseball

Craig's Junior Herndon heads to spring training with Royals

He’s 27 years old, but Craig’s Junior Herndon feels like a high school senior again.

Herndon left Saturday for Surprise, Ariz., to report to the Kansas City Royals’ spring training camp.

“I feel like I just got drafted again,” he said. “It’s like I’m reporting to camp for the first time.”

Herndon was picked in the amateur draft by the San Diego Padres in 1997. He pitched in the Padres’ organization, including several appearances on the major league team, until 2003. He was then drafted in the Rule 5 minor league draft by the Boston Red Sox in 2003. In 2004, the Kansas City Royals signed Herndon.

In his first season in the Royals’ organization, Herndon was leading his league in wins and was selected to pitch in the Double-A All-Star Game. Teammates were getting called up to the major leagues, and he thought his chance might come soon, but a game before his all-star appearance, he felt a tear in his right arm.

It was an elbow injury that required surgery.

Now, 18 months after the injury, Herndon is back.

“My velocity has been improving every week,” he said. “I’m back up to throwing 88 to 90 miles an hour off the mound.”

The Royals, who paid for his medical bills, have good reason to wish Herndon a full recovery.

“I’m an investment to them now,” he said. “I’m not sure what their plans are for me, but they asked me to come back before their minor league pitchers reported.”

The Royals, coming off two consecutive 100-loss seasons, are a small-market team that can’t afford to spend millions of dollars to bring in big-time free agents. Kansas City also is a club that relies on developing pitchers. That bodes well for Herndon.

“The Royals are a good fit for me,” he said. “Since I already have big-league experience, my resume is something they like.”

The Moffat County graduate spent most of his time rehabilitating his elbow in Craig.

“I had a lot of quality time with my wife and two daughters,” he said. “It was also fun to help the youth in the community.”

Herndon spent this winner throwing with the high school team.

“My control and mechanics have felt good,” he said. “I’m not completely rehabbed because it takes a full two years to recover from the surgery. So I’m working on putting the surgery behind me and focusing on throwing well and staying healthy.”

A benefit of staying in Craig for rehab was that Herndon didn’t rush back, he said.

“It’s a time-consuming surgery,” he said. “If I would have stayed around the club, I may have rushed back into it, and my doctor said that a second surgery would take even longer to get back from.”

The disadvantage of staying away from the professional atmosphere was having to keep himself motivated.

“Getting up at 5 a.m. to work out was getting a bit monotonous,” he said. “I’ll have some guys to be competitive with now who will help push me.”

The rehab time also allowed Herndon to do some thinking.

“I’m still young in baseball terms, but with a family and two daughters, I can only chase this dream for so long,” he said. “I haven’t set a timeline or anything, so it’s not like I have a goal saying, ‘I have to make so many millions by such an age.’ It’s still fun for me.”

He goes into his eighth season with uncertainties.

“I’m off-the-charts excited,” he said. “I’m a little nervous for my arm, and I don’t know where I’ll end up pitching, but I know I can do it.”

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