ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Back Trouble Now Gone for Senior
Kevin Collier of Sandia spent most of his junior season hamstrung by what amounted to a broken back.
So Collier decided to do the only logical thing: spend his senior season breaking everybody else’s.
Or, if you’re Sandia coach Al Foster, you just hop aboard and enjoy the ride.
“The biggest joke all year,” Foster said, “was that we were gonna break his back again. Because he carried us all year.”
The Matadors’ lanky outfielder leads Class 5A in batting as the big-school state tournament begins today in Hobbs, Carlsbad, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.
Collier batted .593 in the regular season, and a whopping .680 during the nine-game schedule in District 2-5A.
“They couldn’t get him out,” Foster said.
The 6-foot, 170-pound Collier missed virtually all of the 2010 season with what was initially diagnosed as a stress fracture in lumbar vertebra No. 5, in his lower back.
Collier was in constant pain, but after an early game against West Mesa, everyone quickly realized there was a serious problem.
“It was bugging me for a while even before that game,” Collier said. “It was too unbearable to play with.”
Collier was seeing a chiropractor and physical therapist, and he did manage to come back at the end of the season for the state tournament. He used special shoe inserts to try to limit his discomfort.
“The doctor said I could play if it felt OK,” Collier said, “but it never did.”
A week after the season ended, Collier was back in a doctor’s office, where a bone scan revealed that he actually had a new fracture.
“It was frustrating,” Collier said. “But overall, I was happy it was a new break, because I didn’t want to have a bad back for the rest of my life.”
Collier went into a back brace for the next three months, through the dog days of summer.
“It was so hot,” Collier said with a laugh. “It wasn’t pleasant.”
Moreover, he missed practically an entire calendar year of baseball, at a time when he should be popping up on the radar of colleges.
It is no coincidence, Foster said, that Collier has yet to commit to a school — in large part because the recruiting process begins so early now, in a player’s junior season, and Collier couldn’t do anything to improve his stock.
Conversely, there isn’t much more he could be doing this year from the 3 hole in Sandia’s lineup.
“He hit all the best pitching in the city, the state, to this point,” said Foster. “He’s just been our guy that gets everything going.”
If the ninth-seeded Matadors (12-12) can make some noise in the playoffs — they open today in a first-round, best-of-three series at No. 8 Carlsbad — they can extend their season.
“My options are still open,” Collier said. “We have to beat Carlsbad first. It’s all up for grabs. If we get hot … it’s still anybody’s ballgame.”
Even now, Collier said, doctors cannot pinpoint exactly what caused his back pain in the first place. But he said his back has felt strong all season, and he continues to undergo physical therapy once a week.
“I figure I’m healed,” he said. “I do keep strengthening it, just in case.”