By Scott Richey, Decatur Herald & Review Sports
Jarrett Bednar appeared in three games last summer for the Hannibal (Mo.) Cavemen in the Prospect League. He threw 10 total innings and gave up 10 runs on 14 hits and six walks.
For a pitcher that normally pounds the strike zone, he had just four strikeouts in his limited time with the Cavemen. And an ERA settling at 9.00 was certainly not prototypical Bednar.
But those three games — those 10 innings on the mound in late summer — are worth noting.
Jarrett Bednar throws in Rend Lake's 4-2 win, Feb. 17, over Pensacola State CC in New Orleans. (Submitted Photo)
A few months earlier, baseball — a sport he’d played as long as he could remember — paled in comparison to what the 2011 St. Teresa grad was going through off the diamond.
Bednar was off to a strong start to his college baseball career at Rend Lake College in Ina. He had a 1-1 record and 0.73 ERA in his first 12 1/3 innings for the Warriors, and the muscle he packed onto his lanky high school frame before the season had his 83-84 mph fastball from high school now touching 90.
But as well as he was doing on the mound, Bednar was sick. Flu-like symptoms, including cold sweats and general lethargy, cropped up in March.
He started feeling sick on a Friday, missed a scheduled Saturday start and by Sunday Pamela Bednar had heard enough on the phone.
She drove to Ina the next day and made the decision then to bring her son back to Decatur to see a doctor.
They made it as far as Vandalia — just more than an hour from Ina and still more than an hour from home. It was, at first, a routine road trip stop. It turned into more with a hospital visit.
“I had passed out while my mom was there,” Bednar said. “She said on the car ride home it looked like I was going to pass out again.”
After also telling doctors in Vandalia he had a headache in addition to the flu, Bednar underwent a CAT scan. The news was unexpected.
Doctors found an anomaly on the scan, and Bednar was immediately airlifted to Saint Louis University Hospital. The flu was entirely unrelated, but it turned out to be a fortuitous time for Bednar to get sick.
“After they told me what was happening, it was just like a freak thing,” Bednar said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, what was going on.
“Honestly it was mostly a blur. It just happened so fast, so unexpected. I didn’t know what to expect or what to think.”
Jeremy Current, who was one of Jarrett’s coaches for the Decatur Commodores and a family friend, said he got a phone call from Jim Bednar, Jarrett’s dad, that afternoon. After hearing the news, Current and Travis Foreman, another family friend, drove Jim to St. Louis.
“It was devastating,” Current said. “You want to be optimistic. We just kept praying and telling (Jim), ‘Everything is going to work out. You’re in the best (hospital).’ ”
Rend Lake coach Tony Etnier, an Eisenhower grad who has known the Bednar family for several years and who’s dad, Terry, coached Jarrett in youth baseball, said he was shocked by the news of Jarrett’s hurried trip to St. Louis.
“We played, and I didn’t know anything about it,” Etnier said. “I got to my phone and had a couple text messages from people back home.”
Two days after being airlifted to St. Louis, Jarrett underwent a right craniotomy, where doctors temporarily removed a small part of his skull to assess what they saw on the CAT scan. That turned out to be what doctors could only refer to as a tuft — not a tumor or vascular tissue — and it was removed.
The doctors didn’t hesitate to perform Jarrett’s craniotomy. Etnier said by the time he got to St. Louis, hoping to see Bednar, he was already getting the procedure.
“I tried to catch him that morning,” Etnier said. “I drove over to see him, and by the time I got there they’d already taken him back. I sat there with his family during the surgery, trying to keep their minds occupied.”
The craniotomy was the conclusion to that tumultuous three-day stretch for the Bednar family. But it was still a week or so until they heard from the doctors about what was found by the procedure.
“They needed to do certain tests on it to see if it was cancerous or harmful,” Bednar said. “It was a long, long week.”
The news the Bednar’s got back was good. The tuft doctors removed was innocuous.
“It was awesome,” Bednar said. “I had all the support from friends and family, and it was just great news. My parents really helped me through it, kept me calm and focused.”
Rehab and recovery
Bednar was back in Ina and back at school the week after his surgery, which came during Rend Lake’s spring break. He still traveled with the baseball team and kept stats to stay involved.
But that was all he could do. He had to wait three months before he could start doing even light exercises.
“There was a certain amount of time he was not allowed to do anything to raise his blood pressure,” Etnier said. “He couldn’t jog. He couldn’t lift. He couldn’t throw. I’m sure when he was cleared he was more than ready.”
In one of the first games of the spring 2013 season, a hooded Bednar watches his team play with fellow Warrior pitchers, FROM LEFT, Jason O'Brien, Nick Andros and Corey Farrow. (Submitted Photo)
Bednar only started throwing and doing heavier lifting when he pitched for the Cavemen — an opportunity lined up by Etnier through former Rend Lake player A.J. Martin who was playing in Hannibal and doing a little late summer recruiting for more pitching.
“It was definitely nice,” Bednar said. “All together I don’t think I was 100 percent, but the experience was still good. I needed it to get ready for this season.”
That doesn’t mean, however, there wasn’t some trepidation that first time back on the mound.
“Just nervous,” Bednar said about pitching the first time for the Cavemen. “I didn’t know if something was going to come back, if it would be my last time pitching.”
Bednar wasn’t at 100 percent physically last summer, and it showed on his frame and in his fastball. The weight he gained before his first season at Rend Lake was lost and along with it the extra velocity he had picked up on his fastball.
“I actually went to Hannibal and watched him throw a game,” Current said. “You could obviously tell he was a little bit behind, but he threw well. He was 6-5 and 165 pounds out of high school. He went to college and put on 20-25 pounds of muscle. He basically had to regain all of that.”
“That kind of all got taken from him — all the hard work and all the time — so much quicker than it took to make it happen,” Etnier added.
The work to gain back the muscle and arm strength took place primarily last fall. Using the workout plan set out by Etnier, Bednar got back to his current playing weight of 190 pounds.
“I felt it was a new opportunity,” Bednar said about having to regain the muscle he had lost post-procedure. “I could do it again and do certain things better than I had done before.”
The end result was Bednar’s emergence as one of Rend Lake’s top arms this spring. The Warriors finished the season 37-18 after a 10-0 loss to Great Rivers Athletic Conference rivals Wabash Valley College in the NJCAA Region 24 Tournament on May 13.
Bednar proved himself early on as a starter for the Warriors in weekend GRAC series. He finished the year with a 7-1 record and 2.96 ERA in 11 starts and gave up 57 hits and 13 walks in 67 innings while striking out 44.
Just more than a year after facing the notion he might not pitch again, Bednar signed with Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville to continue his baseball career.
His lost season merited a medical redshirt, so he’ll head to Edwardsville with three years of eligibility remaining. That lost season was also a topic of conversation with SIUE coach Tony Stoecklin.
“We certainly discussed it,” Stoecklin said. “When a player misses a year, regardless of whatever happened, you’re definitely going to investigate.
“The main concern was what would be the likelihood of it reoccurring. As far as I’m concerned, it’s in the past, and he’s moved forward. It’s a great story, and it’s a tribute to his toughness and his ability to persevere and overcome.”
Bednar received some recruiting interest last fall from smaller schools — including Delta State, a top Division II program — but it picked up in the spring. Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky were also in the mix along with SIUE.
Rend Lake College sophomore pitcher Jarrett Bednar (Decatur, Ill.) committed to a scholarship at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. The 6-6, 190-pound product of St. Theresa High School will join the Cougars in the fall. Joining Bednar in the above photo is RLC Head Coach Tony Etnier. (Photo by Nathan Wheeler / RLC Sports Information)
The Cougars, Bednar said, were his choice because of the campus and the baseball program (which includes former St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen as an assistant coach). His roommate, fellow Rend Lake pitcher Brandon George, is also headed to SIUE.
Coming out of a top junior college conference like the GRAC, Stoecklin said Bednar has the skill set to compete at the Division I level. He’ll stress consistency more than anything once Bednar joins the Cougars.
“His stuff right now is good enough to pitch at this level and do really well,” Stoecklin said. “The quality of hitters he’s going to face day in and day out is going to be better. He doesn’t need to have better stuff. He just has to be consistent with what he has now.”
And his fastball might not have reached its peak velocity yet, either.
“If you didn’t know him before, you’d look at him and still say, ‘That’s a really tall, skinny guy,’ ” Etnier said. “He still has room to put weight on and good weight — get stronger physically. As he gets bigger and stronger, he’ll continue to throw harder.”
Back to baseball
Bednar had check-ups three, six and nine months and a year after his surgery and received a clean bill of health each time.
“I’m doing good, once a year now,” he said about future check-ups, which will last for at least the next five years.
Bednar’s renewed health and new opportunities baseball-wise at SIUE have returned his focus to baseball. A year ago, he was staring down uncertainty. Now he has the chance, and the desire, to take baseball as far as possible.