That the Cleburne County product couldn’t play through the Bulldogs’ surprising run to within a game of the College World Series made it bittersweet.
“I’m just glad that the team finally came together, but it was tough to sit there and watch,” he said.
Watson has spent the past 10 weeks rehabilitating his left (throwing) shoulder. This after he underwent surgery to repair what he called an “above average” labrum tear.
It wasn’t the way Watson hoped to end his sophomore season. Then again, he hopes that surgery and rehab mean he’s near an end to two years of fluctuating velocity and in-season shutdowns.
In parts of two seasons in Starkville, Watson has pitched 162/3 innings in 17 total appearances, including two starts. This season, he worked just 3 2/3 innings in four appearances.
That’s hardly what Watson envisioned for his first two years, and it’s hardly what his coaches envisioned.
“We were as thankful as anybody to get him out of high school,” State pitching coach Butch Thompson said. “… He was 91 to 94 (mph). He was a good draft pick of the Rangers (29th round), I believe, and we had to fight to get him to school.
“And I think that everybody knows who is from that area that his breaking ball is devastating. He’s got a really good breaking ball and fastball.”
But Watson battled up and down velocity. The problem surfaced during his freshman season, prompting State’s coaches to shut him down.
Initially, State head coach John Cohen described the problem as dead arm and attributed it to the adjustment from high school to college. The prescription was rest.
“I kind of just finally wore down,” Watson said. “I never played baseball year-round, and that is tough. It just took my body time to get used to it.”
Watson looked strong leading up to his sophomore season, but his velocity fell off again. Multiple MRIs showed a worsening labrum tear.
“We did MRIs last year,” Thompson said. “Each time we’ve done them, it’s just progressively more tearing away of that labrum to the point where they needed to go in and repair it.”
It wasn’t the news Watson wanted. Then again, he saw surgery as the beginning of the end of a long-running problem.
“I was just glad I was getting it fixed,” he said. “I just couldn’t compete at the level I was used to. I was disappointed, but at the same time, I was ready to get back to my old self.”
In fact, he was really ready. He fired off a text message to Cleburne County coach Vaughn Lee saying just how ready he was.
“I said I’m healing faster than anybody they’ve seen before,” Watson said.
Doctors told Watson to expect a six- to nine-month recovery. He set a goal to return by October or November.
It doesn’t hurt that his mother is a physical therapist. He’s done most of his weight and band workouts where she works, and he's done extra workouts.
“It’s three times a week, sometimes I do it five,” he said. “It depends on how I feel that week.”
Watson expects to pick up the ball and start light throwing soon. It’ll be another two months before he starts working off of a mound.
He received a medical redshirt for 2011, so he’ll be a redshirt sophomore in 2012.
Next season will also be his third since graduating from high school, meaning he would be eligible for the big league draft. He could go pro if drafted highly enough to make it worth leaving college early.
“I hope so, but even if I don’t, I still have an extra year with that redshirt,” he said. “If I don’t have the year I need, I’ll still have another year to build on that.”
He also hopes to get back the postseason experience he missed this year.
State made a surprising run to win its NCAA regional at Georgia Tech then took its best-of-3 super regional against Florida to three games. The Bulldogs’ season ended with an 8-6 loss at Gainesville on June 12.
Watson attended most of State’s regular-season games and all of its regional games. He got to celebrate on the field with his teammates after they won in Atlanta.
But there’s no substitute for being on the field when it counts.
“I wanted to be a part of it so bad,” he said. “I’ve got to try to fight through it and get back.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.