Former Trinity High, UTA pitcher bounces back quickly after devastating hand injury

Ryan Riddle heard his bones crunch the instant the 45-pound dumbbell smashed his left hand in January.

For a pitcher, it was the worst injury imaginable.

"You could see the break was in my hand," said Riddle, 25. "It pretty much smashed everything."

An X-ray revealed that he had shattered the metacarpal in the middle of his pitching hand and torn the surrounding ligaments.

The timing could not have been worse for the 2003 Trinity High School graduate from Bedford.

"I had a tryout for the Rangers coming up in two weeks," he said.

Riddle missed his chance at the Rangers, but he didn't lose his determination to play baseball again. Six months after he was injured, Riddle was pitching for the Grand Prairie Air Hogs. In October, he is scheduled to try out for the San Diego Padres.

"After the injury, I didn't know if I would ever be able to play again," he said. "But I had to try."

For Riddle, baseball has long been his life.

After high school, he played for the University of Texas at Arlington and Texas Wesleyan University before landing with the Batavia Muckdogs, an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

His quick recovery has surprised those who know him.

"I wasn't sure he would return to such a high level of activity, and if he ever did, I figured it would take six months to a year," said Dr. Stephen Troum, a Bedford hand surgeon. "I was pleasantly surprised to hear he was pitching competitively again."

To get back on the pitcher's mound, Riddle had two surgeries to reconstruct his hand and did much of his rehabilitation himself.

Physical therapist Marty Stajduhar said Riddle came to him for help after surgery.

"Any type of fracture in the hand is bad for a pitcher," he said.

To help Riddle regain his ability to pitch, Stajduhar taught him exercises to improve his strength and regain his range of motion.

Metacarpal fractures account for almost 40 percent of all hand injuries and are generally associated with trauma.

The injury was rough on Riddle because it affected the joint and its ability to grasp objects, Troum said.

"That joint plays a very sizable role in the hand, especially when it's in the left hand of a left-handed pitcher," he said.

Pins were used to piece together the broken bones, but even after the fracture healed Riddle continued to have a lot of pain. In April, Troum operated again to remove a piece of displaced bone and rebuild the ligaments.

After surgery, his hand was in a cast for several months.

"When I got out of the cast, it wasn't even my hand," Riddle said. "I couldn't move it; I had no control over it."

Without his doctor's approval, he started aggressive rehab on his own.

To break up scar tissue, he sifted sand through his fingers. He also did exercises to rebuild his strength and dexterity.

"Getting my whole range of motion back was tough," Riddle said. "And I still don't have all the feeling back."

But Riddle, who played for the Fort Worth Cats in 2008 and 2009, got his hand in good enough shape to finish the season with the Air Hogs.

Now he has his eyes on the major leagues.

"I practice every day, and I'm trying to stay healthy for the tryouts this winter," he said. "It's always been my dream to play professional baseball."

Jan Jarvis, 817-390-7664