It was May 9, 2014, and the Rowan baseball team was taking on Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It had just won the New Jersey Athletic Conference title and was preparing to make a run in the NCAA Championship Tournament. Before then, however, they had to take care of a makeup game from earlier in the year.
Then-head coach Juan Ranero wanted to get all of his starting pitchers some time, as it had been almost a week since the NJAC tournament ended. Ryan Easterday was to get the start, and 2014 NJAC Co-Pitcher of the Year Dylan Johannink was to come in for relief.
Johannink had not been clocked all season, and he was excited to find out what kind of velocity he would be bringing into the tournament. But there was a problem.
“All that week I was dealing with some wrist pain,” he remembers. “And they were telling me I could be going out there in one of the next two innings, so I ran to the bathroom and when I got back they were suddenly like ‘get ready, you’re going in,’ and as I’m rushing to warm up I feel my wrist starting to flare up.”
Johannink got through the fifth inning, but his velocity was noticeably slower than normal. When he returned to pitch the sixth, his wrist was throbbing.
“The first pitch I threw they hit a single, and the next one was a 50-60 mile-per-hour ball, and my arm completely popped,” Johannink said. “People always ask me how that felt, and it just felt like my elbow popped, dislocated and then slid back into place. Immediately after that I was thinking, ‘well I’m done pitching this game, am I going to be done for the season?’”
Johannink would walk off the field for the last time that season, and a few days later MRI results would confirm a complete tear of his ulnar collateral ligament.
It was a pitcher’s worst nightmare; Johannink would need Tommy John surgery.
He went to Dr. Craig Morgan at the Morgan Kalman Clinic in Wilmington, Delaware, for the surgery. They moved part of a nerve from the bottom part of his elbow to the top and inserted a ligament out of a cadaver’s hamstring to replace the tear. He would return to Rowan a few days later to some more unsettling news.
“That was the day Ranero told us he was leaving for Eckerd [College] next season,” Johannink said. “That’s when I decided, you know, I’m conference player of the year, and I’ve always wanted to play Division I baseball, so let me take charge of this and see what else is out there.”
Johannink emailed over 100 universities, and drew significant interest from the Baylor Bears in Waco, Texas. Their coach at the time was Steve Smith, who knew Ranero and was willing to help Johannink rehab and earn a spot on the roster. He packed his things and moved to Texas with the hope of reigniting his career, but found yet another obstacle.
“I’m going to the meetings and everything, but then spring comes around and they don’t have a roster spot for me because of the injury,” Johannink said. “Then they have a losing season and coach Smith gets fired.”
The new coach was Steve Rodriguez, and not only did he not know who Johannink was, but he was bringing a crop of his own players along with him. To make matters worse, Johannink had hit a plateau throwing from 120 feet where his elbow began bothering him again. The Baylor training staff tried everything to relieve the stress before finally setting him up for an appointment with Dr. James Andrews.
The Dr. James Andrews, who handles all of the Major League Tommy John surgeries.
Johannink went to Florida for two days to see Andrews, getting a second surgery and starting his rehab over from scratch.
“When I got back, I tried out for their open roster spot and after watching me throw for 10 minutes, they decided they didn’t want another player with injury issues,” said Johannink.
It was a devastating blow to a player who had already lost so much. He called his girlfriend, Brianna, to break the news.
“I was really upset that I didn’t make the team, so she throws out the idea of coming back to Rowan for this year,” Johannink remembers. “I already had [Rowan Pitching Coach Ryan] Kulik trying to call me back but I didn’t have an open ear for it because I was so focused on making this DI team. So Kulik was the first person I called.”
“One of the first things I said when he called me was that I had already mentally prepared myself for that conversation,” Kulik said. “I felt terrible for him and welcomed him back with open arms because I know what type of kid he is.”
After talking with the pitching coach, Johannink had to make a second phone call to apologize to a man he had never met, Rowan’s new head coach Mike Dickson, for not sharing the details of his situation.
“I was disappointed to hear that he was leaving when I first got to Rowan because I had never even spoken to him,” Dickson said. “We talked about my thoughts on the situation [when he called] and just made sure that his loyalty was here with Rowan.”
Now that he is back in the brown and gold, Johannink wishes he had never left. While the appeal of playing baseball on the biggest stage in college was something he had always dreamed of, he was without his friends and family at a time that he needed them the most.
With his support system now fully around him, Johannink believes he can get back to pitching at the elite level.
“My ERA this season makes me look terrible right now. I don’t even look at it honestly, but it’s really humbling,” said Johannink. “I feel like I’ve made improvements every time I came out though, and I’m starting to feel like my old self again.”
The Profs are hoping Johannink can settle back into his starting roll sooner rather than later with NJAC play heating up in the last month of the season. He has passed his wisdom on to the younger players who have stepped up in his absence, but Dickson still wants to see Johannink get back to pitching the way he knows the former conference Co-Pitcher of the Year can.
“He’s been there before, so he understands what it takes to not just pitch well but also win in the conference,” Dickson said. “As we get into the conference season, we’re going to need Dylan to pitch well for us.”