The George Washington University: Baseball

Craig Lejeune's Redemption

Lejeune observes a regular-season game from the bullpen following his surgery during the 2013 season.
 
Lejeune observes a regular-season game from the bullpen following his surgery during the 2013 season.
 

   

July 24, 2014

In the basement of the Charles E. Smith Center on a hot and muggy June afternoon the sounds of free weights clang through the quiet and still corridors.

The normal foot traffic that is seen in the building has been absent for weeks as most of the GW student-athletes have gone their separate ways for summer vacation.

Each clang of the weights cuts through the air, momentarily rising above the consistent hum of the air conditioning.

GW baseball pitcher Craig LeJeune rests between repetitions. With his hands on his hips he looks towards the ceiling, exhausted.

He can still remember every detail of the day his senior season ended. He thinks about that day with every workout. But each time he recalls the pain and strife of missing out on his senior season, the thought at another shot motivates him to push on for another set.

A Memorable 2013 Season
Lejeune had never been a closer. Through his whole baseball career he had been a starting pitcher, used to taking the mound in the first inning and throwing deep into ball games.

Prior to his junior season he had the opportunity to try something new. New head coach Gregg Ritchie placed Lejeune in the closer role.

"Closing was something I had never done before," said Lejeune. "I had been a starter my whole life but to slide into a new role was really exciting for me. I couldn't wait to get the season started."

His first outing in the role was rough, yielding two earned runs on three hits over 1.2 innings in the 2013 season opener at Davidson. But he rebounded eight days later and kicked off a string of four consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run.

He earned the win on March 10 against Cornell after providing 2.1 innings scoreless innings with five strikeouts before tallying his first career save on March 17 with 3.1 innings of perfect relief and three punch outs against Penn.

Once he settled into the role, Lejeune became dominant. In 27 appearances on the season he posted a 3.41 ERA, three victories and 31 strikeouts against just eight walks. He also tallied 10 saves, which shot him into third place in program history in career saves and was just two off the single-season record.

By May the Colonials had won nine of their final 10 conference games down the stretch and had made the Atlantic 10 Championship for the first time since 2006. After stunning Rhode Island in walkoff fashion, the Colonials bowed out of the tournament in the bracket's final four against eventual champion Saint Louis.

"It was such a great year," said Lejeune. "Coming into the season with a new coach and pretty much a whole new team, we all had a chance to start fresh with a clean slate. It allowed us to forget everything in the past and just focus on the present and the future."

Lejeune carried the momentum of his junior season into the summer circuit, where he suited up for the Danbury Westerners in the prestigious New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL). He racked up five saves and 19 strikeouts against just two walks in 20 innings for the Westerners and had his sights set on his senior season after such a promising year.

"After my junior season, I was very excited for 2014," said Lejeune. "I was coming off my best year I have had at GW and then I pitched really well in the NECBL over the summer. That was a great experience to play against some of the top players in the country. I was also the closer there and it gave me a ton of confidence in that role. I was really ready to shut the door in the ninth inning for us in 2014."

The Injury
Fast forward to February 6, 2014. It was a brisk afternoon at Barcroft Park and the sun was setting over the tree line. An intrasquad scrimmage was being played as the Colonials prepared for their 2014 season opener at UNC Greensboro.

Lejeune entered the game in his customary closer role. He was to be the final pitcher of the simulated game.

"It was a pretty cold night and I had layers on," Lejeune recalls. "I come in and throw my warmup pitches and I felt great. And then I throw my first pitch of the inning and I felt and heard a pop in my arm. I knew it wasn't good. I just put my head down and walked off the field. Everything was running in my mind and immediately I knew that Tommy John surgery was a possibility, but I didn't want to rush to any conclusions."

A few days and four doctor appointments later, Lejeune's worst fear had been confirmed. Rehab was not an option and he needed Tommy John surgery. He would be sidelined for at least six months and would miss his senior season.

"It was pretty devastating when I got the news," said Lejeune. "It all happened so quickly so I didn't really have time to process the thought of getting the surgery. I saw the doctor and was under the knife two days later. I didn't have too much time to think about it. When I heard the diagnosis I realized my senior season was done. The hardest part of getting the news was realizing I wouldn't get to play my senior season with Aaron, Colin, Taylor, Owen and Luke."


A Different View of the Game
With his arm completely immobilized and unable to throw, Lejeune still found himself in the bullpen during the 2014 season.

"It was pretty hard to not be able to play my senior season but I learned that helping and impacting the team in any way I can was a good opportunity for me," said Lejeune.

Being in the bullpen was comforting to Lejeune. He was able to stay close to his teammates and he slowly realized that he was picking things up about the game that he had never noticed before as a player.

"I definitely learned a lot being down in the bullpen during games," said Lejeune. "I saw a lot of things from a coaching perspective and that whole aspect of the game that I never noticed as an active player. Seeing the pitches differently and breaking down the mechanics was all new to me. I realized these things could help me in my game over the next year or so. It was a good role to be in, especially with all of the freshman that we had on the roster. It was a good opportunity to impact them and hopefully have an influence on them."

As the season moved along, Lejeune slowly started implementing his rehab. March turned to April and April became May. Suddenly, Lejeune was with his classmates in the Betts Theater at Marvin Center to receive their degrees in a Special Commencement ceremony.

"Special Commencement was an interesting experience," said Lejeune. "It honestly still hasn't hit me that I have graduated. It was a small ceremony with us and the rowing team so it was a different experience but very special to be a part of, and then we ended up being able to make it back for the ceremony on the National Mall after our last series."

Rehabbing for Another Shot
With most of campus vacated, Lejeune is one of a handful of student-athletes spending their summer in Washington, D.C. Although still restricted from throwing, he has been hard at work nearly every day in the Smith Center preparing for his return in 2015.

"I haven't been able to throw all this time but am closing in on being able to start my throwing program very soon," said Lejeune. "Other than that, it has been long days in the training room. At least two hours a day, four days a week doing rehab work. I also have been working really hard in the weight room on my legs and my core. I am trying to build my lower body to get it as strong as possible so it can translate to helping me when I throw off the mound again."

However, his reason for staying in Washington, D.C., this summer isn't just about his rehab. Lejeune has been working two jobs after earning his degree in economics in May.

"I work for a company called SimpleTix," said Lejeune. "It is an event registration and e-ticketing software company. I work directly with the CEO and Co-Founder in Chinatown. I have been doing a little bit of everything, from customer support to business development. Trying to get and maintain clients. I have also been working in the recreational sports department as a rec-league softball umpire."

Although keeping busy with his jobs and rehab, it is hard for Lejeune to not look towards the 2015 season in heavy anticipation.

"It is definitely a special opportunity to come back and play next season, especially with the young guys that we have," said Lejeune. "It gives me an opportunity to make a big impact on the program moving forward."

"I guess there is a silver lining in everything. I'm sad about missing out on last year but being able to come back and help out these young guys and help to push this program forward is a special opportunity and I won't take it for granted. This program wants to get to Omaha one day and I am going to do my best to contribute to that goal in any way I can."

 

 

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