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Get the popcorn ready: Nick DeGennaro is back

Starting pitcher Nick DeGennaro pitching at an intra-squad scrimmage on Friday, Feb. 10. DeGennaro is making a highly anticipated return from Tommy John Surgery this year. KAT PROCACCI/THE STATESMAN

When he is on the pitcher’s mound, standing center stage with all eyes on him, Nick DeGennaro is lethal. 

Staff aces like him are not easy to find, which is why it is imperative to the Stony Brook baseball team that he stays healthy. Unfortunately for DeGennaro, that has not been the case recently.

After breaking out in the 2021 season as a junior, DeGennaro received some serious honors. His 3.14 ERA and his 1.20 WHIP helped earn him a spot on the All-America East (AE) First Team. His .231 batting average against and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings did not hurt his recognition, either. The team went 8-4 in the 12 games he started, including 6-0 in the regular season against conference opponents. When the man they call “Deg” took the mound, Stony Brook was a force to be reckoned with.

Then 2022 happened. Heading into last season, DeGennaro was named one of the nation’s top 150 starting pitchers by D1Baseball.com. The honor presented a chance for DeGennaro to fulfill a dream of playing professionally. 

However, just two games into his senior season, the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow gave way and tore fully off the bone. DeGennaro was forced to undergo Tommy John Surgery, ending his 2022 season before the calendar flipped to March.

DeGennaro was pitching at a high level when he sustained the injury. He allowed just one earned run and four hits while striking out 13 batters through 9 ⅔ innings. 

It was the second time in the last three seasons that DeGennaro tore his UCL. This time was even more gut-wrenching to him than the first, and he was ready to hang up the cleats after suffering the injury.

“That was miserable. I was about to quit,” DeGennaro said in an interview with The Statesman. “I went into the office and I was ready to quit. Coach [Matt] Senk talked me out of it. Thank God, because I don’t even know what I’d be doing right now.”

Missing out on the chance to post back-to-back great seasons changed the future outlook of DeGennaro’s career. He had always envisioned himself playing baseball after college, and the thought of losing that opportunity ate away at him. 

“I never really worried about what I wanted to do that’s not baseball,” DeGennaro said. “It put everything into perspective and I was miserable.”

Being forced to sit on the bench and watch his teammates play was no help to his mental state. DeGennaro took two weeks away from the team after suffering the injury just to get his mind right.

However, it took him much longer to start feeling better emotionally.

“It took me about a month of going to our games to really get back into it,” DeGennaro said. “I was so jealous of people who I would root for until the day I die. Evan [Giordano] and Ben [Fero] — who are my two closest friends — I was just so jealous of everything they were doing because I felt like I got it ripped away from me. That was a terrible feeling.”

Eventually, DeGennaro’s bitterness faded. He fully embraced being around his team again, even if he was not on the field with them. However, the physical rehabilitation period lasted much longer and was much more grueling to him.

He spent the whole rest of 2022 rehabbing his elbow, doing workouts to help improve his range of motion and his grip strength. He especially disliked the light-throwing drills because it felt like a tease to him.

“The worst part is when you start doing bullpens because you’re only throwing at 50%,” DeGennaro said. “You do that three times a week. It’s monotonous and agonizing. It sucked. I never want to rehab anything ever again.”

The first time DeGennaro tore his UCL came under similar circumstances. In February 2020, the then-sophomore got off to a great start. Facing off against two good teams in Texas State and Clemson, DeGennaro flourished. In two starts, he pitched 12 ⅔ innings and allowed just two earned runs on four hits. He struck out 12 hitters and only walked four. Then came the shooting pain in his right arm, and there went his season.

DeGennaro was told by the first doctor he saw that his UCL was 15% torn, and that a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection would help him recover without surgery. He then got a second medical opinion from a doctor who told him the ligament was 60% torn and required surgery. 

DeGennaro had a Tommy John Surgery appointment scheduled in March 2020. However, on the day before his appointment, all surgeries that were deemed non-essential were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

DeGennaro had no other choice but to find another option. A third doctor told him that his UCL was only 30% torn, and that a PRP shot would hold up. Out of options, DeGennaro received the PRP injection. He did not play summer ball later that year, but he did continue to work on his craft that whole offseason.

Though it did not work forever, DeGennaro does not regret getting the PRP shot.

“I don’t [regret it] because my junior year was so special to me, and without the PRP, it probably wouldn’t have happened,” DeGennaro said. “I guess I’ll never know how it would’ve worked out. I’ll just take what I have.”

After all the struggling, DeGennaro has finally made it to the other side. He is finally back to throwing with 100% effort and recently started facing live hitters.

As of now, DeGennaro says his fastball is sitting around 90 miles per hour. With warmer weather on the horizon and more work to be done with his arm, that is an encouraging number to Stony Brook’s ace.

The Seawolves learned what life is like without their ace last year: not easy. As a team, they pitched to a 6.17 ERA and a .285 batting average against. The team still managed to win the AE regular-season title, but that was largely in part to its high-powered offense and weak opponents. 

A team ERA over 6.00 will not work out for Stony Brook in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). The CAA’s league ERA is 1.42 runs lower than the AE, meaning that Stony Brook can not just rely on its bats to win games. DeGennaro’s return to the mound for Stony Brook will help provide some balance to the team and give the rotation more stability. 

Given the difference in competition in the CAA, head coach Matt Senk is relieved to have his ace back for 2023.

“It’s real nice to have him back, especially going into a deeper conference, to know that you have a Deg,” Senk said. “To be able to know you have a Deg with his experience and his competitiveness and his pitch arsenal, we’re psyched to have him back.”

Though new to the conference, Stony Brook’s opponents are well aware of what DeGennaro brings to the table. The graduate student was named to the CAA Preseason Honorable Mentions list

His fifth and final season at Stony Brook is less than a week away. With a highly anticipated return about to commence, DeGennaro is not putting extra pressure on himself. Instead, he is just planning to do what he loves and have some fun.

“I’m more focused on enjoying the year and getting through it and having fun with my friends,” DeGennaro said. “I’m lucky that I have them all back this year.”

DeGennaro will throw the first pitch of his comeback season during Stony Brook’s opening weekend series at Cal State Northridge.

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About the Contributor
Mike Anderson, Sports Editor
Mike Anderson is the Sports Editor at The Statesman. He is a senior majoring in journalism with aspirations of becoming a sports journalist. His love of sports comes from his time spent as a baseball player. As a reporter for The Statesman, he has covered baseball, softball, football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men's and women's lacrosse, women's volleyball and hockey. He has also interned at Axcess Sports as a high school and college baseball and softball reporter. He is a local product from Port Jefferson, N.Y. and is a diehard Mets, Jets, Nets and Islanders fan.
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