Having mononucleosis helped Clemson pitcher realize how much he loved baseball
When he was diagnosed with mononucleosis last spring, Brooks Crawford tried to fight through it. He was still pitching for Clemson, but it was obvious he just wasn’t himself.
He threw against Florida State and Wake Forest, but was not his usual self. The righty combined to give up five hits and two runs in a combined 1/3 of an inning in the two games.
“I was struggling with some of my command and also my velocity was a little down,” Crawford said as the Tigers prepare for this week’s Clemson Regional in the NCAA Tournament. “I was always tired and sluggish.”
That next weekend at North Carolina, things got worse. Crawford’s spleen swelled so the junior was immediately shutdown and he did not pitch again for another month.
According to the Mayo Clinic.org, Mononucleosis may cause enlargement of the spleen, which is an abdominal organ involved in the production and removal of blood cells and forming part of the immune system. In extreme cases, the spleen may rupture, causing sharp, sudden pain in the left side of the upper abdomen, which may require surgery to repair.
It can also cause problems with the liver if there is not enough adequate rest.
Most commonly known as mono, mononucleosis is often called the kissing disease. The virus that causes mono is transmitted through saliva, and is often picked up through kissing, but someone can also be exposed through a cough or sneeze, or by sharing a glass or food utensils with someone who has mono.
Crawford was shut down for a month and he came back and pitched one inning against NC State in the regular season finale. He also pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings against Vanderbilt in the Clemson Regional Finals last year. It was his longest outing of the season, as he had a season-high four strikeouts in that game as well.
“Not playing for that month made me realize I loved the game and that I wanted to be out there every day,” Crawford said.
In a strange way, getting mono turned out to be the best thing for the right-handed pitcher from Bishop, Ga. It caused him to focus more and to prioritize things in his life better.
“It helped me realize that baseball is really important to me,” he said.
Crawford’s coaches noticed that too. They saw how he started to pay attention to his health more and how he dedicated himself to getting better.
“The big question mark for us was will he be able to get through a lineup twice,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “Is he ever going to break that threshold and take that next step? We knew he was going to be a candidate to be a starter, but we did not know if he was going to fit in that role this year as a junior. We challenged him a little bit.”
In fact, Lee told Crawford at the end of fall practice that he did not have him in the starting rotation and that he was going to have to really prove to him and pitching coach Andrew See if he could be a starter when the Tigers resumed practice in January.
“I told him, ‘You need to be a whole lot better if you want to pitch in the rotation,’ and to his credit, when he came back he was better,” Lee said. “He was our best starter when we came back for those three weeks or so before the season started. That is why he won the job.”
Heading into this season, Crawford had only started twice in his career, and both came during his freshman season at Clemson. But in both starts, against the College of Charleston and Florida State in the ACC Championship Game, he did not make it through four complete innings.
“We told him, ‘if we are going to be good this year, you are going to have to be a big part of what we do,’” Lee said. “He got better, better and better. He was way better in the spring when we came back and it really solidified to me that he should be a weekend starter.”
Crawford emerged a Clemson’s best starter this year. In the 15 games he has started this year, the Tigers are 13-2, including an 8-2 record in his 10 decisions. In his last five regular-season starts, he allowed just one walk, while earning five straight victories.
“Having mono was tough. I had it bad, but I was still doing stuff,” Crawford said. “I was still with the team and all of that and contributing in practice, but not playing was the toughest part. It made me realize this game is important to me, and my teammates are important to me, so being healthy this year has been the key.”
Against Miami in the ACC Tournament, though he did not have his best stuff, Crawford still limited the Hurricanes to one run, while allowing just three hits in five innings of work.
“This year, I have been taking really good care of myself and making sure I’m getting enough sleep,” Crawford said. “I’m healthier.”
When he came in as a freshman, Crawford weighed 240 pounds. He trimmed that to 230 before his sophomore season, but when he contracted mono, he instantly dropped 15 pounds and it hurt his production.
He has since got his weight back up to 225 pounds.
“I feel like I am in the best shape of my life right now,” Crawford said.
That is showing on the mound. His 3.35 ERA is second best on the team among the starters and in 75 1/3 innings of work, he has 56 strikeouts to 16 walks which is the second best pitch-to-walk ratio on the team among those who have pitched 60 or more innings.
“It is because of Brooks and what Brooks has done,” Lee said. “He took the challenge that I presented to him at the fall of his junior year and he made the most of it. That is what you like to see from your players.
“It just shows you the confidence he has in himself and the toughness that he has to be able to do what he has been able to do this year. I’m very, very proud of Brooks.”