Bowens Returns From Two Torn ACLs

Patrick Gustavson, Sports Editor

When TT Bowens dug into the batter’s box in the bottom of the fifth inning against Stony Brook on April 10 and drove a pitch into right-center field and legged out a standup triple, it seemed ordinary for the redshirt sophomore first baseman.

But rounding the bases was not as easy a task as it used to be for Bowens. It was just his second at-bat after missing more than one calendar year of competition after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in each of his knees.

Despite this, Bowens said he didn’t think twice going full speed around the bases, he was just happy to be back on the field.

As a freshman in the year 2017, Bowens made a nearly immediate impact on the Central Connecticut baseball team. After initially struggling to adjust to the college game at the plate, Bowens became a staple in the Blue Devils order, starting 42 contests.

But he truly made his impact in the Northeast Conference tournament, where his .636 batting average and 1.363 slugging percentage not only helped lead his team to an NCAA Tournament berth but earned him the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

Bowens planned on making a similar impact in his sophomore year, but his plans were derailed just six games in.

During a March 4 contest at Furman, Bowens was picked off second base. He took off for third and despite being out by “10 feet,” he still tried to avoid the third baseman by jumping out of the way. As Bowens was tagged out, he felt a pop in his left knee.

After leaving the field, he approached the team’s trainer, who had him attempt to jog a few steps to test his knee, which he was able to do. After feeling something was “missing or out of place,” he was taken out of the game for precautionary reasons. His knee immediately swelled and was stuck in that position for “a few days.”

The next morning, the team returned home from South Carolina and Bowens saw his doctor, who diagnosed the ACL tear. Within three weeks, Bowens went under the knife, prematurely ending his season.

Bowens was forced to sit on the sidelines and watch his team miss the 2018 NEC Tournament altogether just one year after winning it.

“That’s honestly the hardest thing ever I had to do. I’ve played sports my whole life. With that being my first season ever missed, it was really hard,” Bowens said.

But Bowens did whatever he could to be a part of his team, attending nearly every practice and game he could, even traveling with the Blue Devils.

The rehabilitation process was a smooth one for Bowens, who was fully cleared to play in September of 2018, allowing him to play nearly the entire Fall season.

“My surgical knee was perfect. I had close to no problems with that and everything was good,” Bowens said.

As a part of his physical therapy, Bowens did Heisman jumps, lateral jumps off one leg to another, ending in something similar to a Heisman Trophy pose. On one of his jumps, he felt a pop in his right knee.

Bowens said he felt no pain or swelling in his knee, leaving him cautiously optimistic, despite the similarities to his previous injury.

School trainers and Bowens’ doctor were pleased with the knee’s stability and range of motion and assumed it was either a medial collateral ligament or meniscus injury, meaning a shorter recovery time and no surgery.

But the results of the MRI shocked them all: Bowens had torn the ACL in his other knee.

“I haven’t experienced any close family or friends passing, so that was probably the worst news I’ve ever heard in my life,” Bowens said of the results.

“I remember that exact moment. I was sitting in the office and once he [Doctor Michael Joyce] told me, I don’t remember a thing from the rest of that conversation. I remember I couldn’t even talk. I was just sitting there in shock like I was frozen.”

Bowens faced another five to seven-month recovering and his doctor told him to expect to miss the entire 2019 season, meaning he would lose two years of his collegiate career.

Bowens, who now has lots of experience with the subject, called ACL injuries “90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.”

Despite knowing the rehabilitation process, Bowens was concerned that his injuries would impact his future on the baseball field.

“My biggest fear is that I had missed too much time and maybe scouts at the next level would look at me and think ‘this guy can’t stay healthy,’” Bowens said.

Another fear was taking the “wrong step” or “planting wrong,” an obstacle he would be forced to face on the field. Just like his first time through physical therapy, Bowens was forced to face the Heisman jump, the culprit of his second injury.

“I was nervous, but in my head, I was thinking, ‘If I can’t do this, there’s no way I can play a baseball game,’” Bowens admitted. “That’s what kept me pushing through things sometimes. Every time my therapist would introduce me to something I’d be nervous about, I thought, ‘If I can’t even do this then how do I expect to get back on the baseball field?’”

Bowens was able to return to the field just over a year later in the Stony Brook contest and has inserted himself squarely in the middle of the Blue Devils order and has not missed a beat, carrying a .353 batting average through nine games in addition to four extra-base hits and six runs batted in.

Due to the injuries, Bowens was forced to adjust. At the plate, he removed a leg kick entirely from his batting stance.

“I don’t even lift my foot off the ground. I just kind of shift my weight back and forth and it’s kept me on time,” Bowens said. “As long as I had my timing down for pitchers, [that] was the biggest thing.”

But Bowens said the biggest adjustment was learning to take fewer risks on the field.

“A year ago, maybe I would have dived for that ball or I would have tried to dodge this or that,” Bowens said. “Going through that and experiencing it, it can keep me out of those situations. I can be like ‘maybe I shouldn’t go about this that way. Maybe I should try to get around it instead of diving for it or veer off from the base path instead of sliding into second base.’”

But most important, Bowens said the injuries will change his regimen and how he takes care of himself.

“While I was rehabbing my leg, I was able to get in better shape upper-body wise and my overall health. I’ve been doing all different kinds of therapy and different types of eating habits. In the past five months, it honestly made me better myself, my body and go about things a better way and look at things from having major injuries, knowing I need to take care of my body,” Bowens said.

“After a game, I can’t just go home and go to bed. I’ve got to get ice. I’ve got to stretch. I have to show up the next day and not be tight or sore. I’ve been doing that after every practice and every game, getting treatment.”

The Blue Devils currently sit in second place in the NEC with a strong chance to return to the conference tournament, where Bowens first burst on to the scene.

With two years of eligibility remaining following the 2019 season, Bowens will continue to try and help his team reach the conference tournament and beyond.