NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Undergoing Tommy John surgery isn’t necessarily a death sentence for pitchers – but it certainly isn’t good news either. While most can recover in less than a year and a half, the process is grueling and has no guarantees. Lipscomb baseball senior Denton Norman knows the ins and outs of Tommy John all too well after tearing his UCL two seasons ago. However, after a stellar senior campaign in 2017, Norman can be listed among the surgery’s success stories.
Norman - a biology major - is affectionately known as “Doc” around the baseball program. The nickname stems partially from his major and also from former Bison hurler Jaesung Hwang, who mistakenly believed that Norman’s father was a doctor.
“J thought my dad was a doctor the entire time he knew me,” Norman said. “That’s how the nickname came to fruition and it stuck thanks to my major.”
“Doc” found himself on the receiving end of some serious medical attention after partially tearing his UCL during the 2015 season. Elbow pain gradually worsened for Norman, whose last appearance before the surgery came on April 4, 2015 at Jacksonville.
“The doctors said it was damaged badly enough that I would eventually tear it completely,” Norman said. “The gradual pain caught up with me, so I figured I’d go ahead and have the surgery.”
The news was equally disappointing for Norman and the Bisons, who had to make alternate plans in regards to their Sunday starter.
“It was a huge loss because he was such a big part of the staff,” Lipscomb head coach Jeff Forehand said. “He was pitching well and had really solidified the Sunday role when he got injured.”
Rather than sulk, Norman was determined to make a full recovery. Respected Nashville orthopedic surgeon and longtime Tennessee Titans doctor Burton Elrod performed the surgery on May 5, 2015, marking the beginning of a long road to recovery for Norman.
“I’ll tell you what, it was a trek,” he said of the healing process. “It took me a year and a half to fully recover, so it felt great to be back.”
The Katy, Texas native returned last fall and never looked back. After initially being the most reliable option out of the bullpen, Norman was bumped up to make several starts on the mound in the last month of the season. His first start in over two years was a masterful performance against Kennesaw State in late April, when he tossed eight scoreless innings and earned ASUN Pitcher of the Week for his efforts.
One week later, Norman was handed the Ken Dugan Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a Lipscomb baseball player each season.
“We had several guys on the team that were deserving of the award, so this year’s winner was a hard one to pick,” Forehand said. “It came down to Denton - he always does the right thing and is such a great teammate and student.”
Norman, who touted a 4-4 record and a 2.02 ERA in 2017, said the accolades were appreciated.
“Usually I feel like I’m hiding in the background with so many talented players around me,” he said. “It feels good to get a little recognition, but I can’t rest on the awards. I’ve got to go out and perform every time because that’s what is expected.”
The 6-foot-3 hurler is set to finish his last few classes at Lipscomb this fall. Norman admits that balancing a major like biology with baseball had its difficulties. Part of his key to success was cutting out social media as part of a New Year’s resolution.
“I got rid of social media two years ago and it’s been tough, but it’s made me a lot more productive,” Norman said. “Time management is very important.”
The future is still up in the air for Norman, who has dreams of playing professional baseball and going to graduate school.
“If I get a chance to go play ball, I’m going to go do that,” he said. “I’m planning on taking a year off to work anyways, and then I plan on applying to grad school.”
Whether his future lies on baseball field or in the medical field, “Doc” has certainly proven that he will not back down from a challenge.
“Sometimes he had to arrive late or miss practice, but he managed to keep everything balanced,” Forehand said. “He pushed through everything and it was been such a blessing to see him overcome the hardship of the injury and have a great comeback season.”