“Pop.” Nick DeFeo knew something wasn’t right after hearing this noise while throwing a curveball on his first day of spring practice for Ursinus baseball in 2018. Just to be sure, he threw another fastball despite the discomfort in his arm. It traveled 5 feet then hit the ground. At this point DeFeo had lost all feeling in his hand and couldn’t bend his elbow.
DeFeo, a freshman at the time, had just lost his first year of college baseball to a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). “I was devastated,” DeFeo said. “I’ve come all this way just to have it end like that.” He knew it wouldn’t be an easy recovery, but he set his mind to it and told himself that he will be back: better and stronger than ever before.
DeFeo was first noticed by Ursinus in high school as a lanky yet powerful pitcher. He had many successes at Haverford High on the mound that led to Ursinus offering him a spot on the roster come 2018.
“I was beyond excited to start my collegiate career that year,” said DeFeo. “I couldn’t wait to get out on the field and pitch for the program, but when I found out I needed Tommy John surgery, I questioned if I’d ever be on a field again.”
On March 15, 2018, DeFeo underwent successful surgery on his UCL. After getting his cast off about two weeks later, it was time for rehab. “I started doing small exercises for range of motion at first while still wearing a brace,” said DeFeo. “It was very repetitive and annoying, but it had to be done.”
DeFeo was able to strength train after a few months, then started a throwing program when he was strong enough. “The first time I threw during this program, I had a lot of pain in my arm, which really worried me,” said DeFeo. “I told my doctor about this, and he said it was completely normal to have pain the first times throwing after getting surgery, so that gave me a lot of confidence.”
DeFeo’s program progressed very slowly to ensure that he wouldn’t injure himself again. “I went up about one step every week and the entire program took about 16 weeks,” he said.
The program finished up just in time to return to spring practices in 2019. The whole process took 11 months.
DeFeo’s 2019 season was one to remember from an individual standpoint. The Ursinus pitching staff had a down year in 2019, but DeFeo was a bright spot for the program. He posted one of the best ERAs on the team at 4.97 and had 4 wins with 1 save.
In the shortened 2020 season DeFeo broke out, posting a jaw-dropping 0.73 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 12 innings pitched. He also recorded 1 save and is currently 4 saves away from tying the all-time Ursinus record for saves.
When asked about the shortened 2020 season, DeFeo reflected the attention away from himself and on to the seniors. “The seniors worked so hard and gave so much back to the program. They were great leaders and helped the whole team reach the next level. We were going to do something great this year, but all we can do now is have it carry over into next year.”
Things couldn’t be looking better for Ursinus pitcher Nick DeFeo. It’s hard to believe that only two short years ago his baseball career was in jeopardy from a torn UCL. Expect the trend of improvement to continue next year as DeFeo looks for some conference recognition in his senior year at Ursinus.