WOOD-RIDGE — The only thing that went according to plan in Zach Garvin’s high school athletic career was the winter of his freshman year.
Garvin played freshman and junior varsity basketball that season, and seemed destined to be one of those three-sport stars that make Group 1 schools go. Garvin was thinking about playing soccer and was poised to debut on the varsity baseball team.
Then, it happened.
“The first day of the season, I felt a pain like I’ve never felt before,” said Garvin, now a senior. “Agonizing pain.”
A trip to the hospital revealed a fractured head of Garvin’s right femur. A series of tests revealed that the bone head of his femur was dying, and he was diagnosed with avascular necrosis of his hip.
“The same thing that ended Bo Jackson’s career,” Garvin said.
Garvin said it was caused by Inpingement Syndrome. His hip bone was not in the socket like it was supposed to be, so doctors had to break the bone in half and reposition his leg.
There was surgery — “very tough and very painful,” Garvin said — followed by more than 15 months of rehab in New York City. Through it all, Garvin was driven by the idea that he was going to play baseball again.
“Rehab was my life,” Garvin said. “I started to look at rehab as a sport.
“I tried to be positive. What else could I do? Sit home and be sad all the time?”
People, especially his teammates and friends, noticed the effort.
“You know, Zach would’ve started on the varsity [team] as a freshman,” said Wood-Ridge senior pitcher Joe Barbiera. “This was really hard for him, but he was never upset. He always told us, ‘I’m coming back.’ ”
Two weeks into last season, Garvin finally made his varsity debut. Coaches and players say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he stepped on the pitcher’s mound for the first time, and, in his first at bat, he lined a single over shortstop.
“We were all crying,” Barbiera said. “You never think someone could come back from something like that.”
“He’s an inspiration, even for the coaches,” said Wood-Ridge coach Mike Carcich. “When you’re a competitor like he is, you never get it out of your system. You feel so happy for him because he gets to be out there with his friends and be a competitor again.”
Garvin was a bit player last season, but this season he has become a regular for the Blue Devils. He’s hitting .432 through 10 games (16-for-37) with 12 RBI and an on-base percentage over .400.
Garvin, who hits No. 5 and is the designated hitter, is 12-for-19 in NJIC Meadowlands Division games, including three hits against St. Mary and four hits against Becton. He’s also pitched in one game, and had five RBI in Thursday’s win over Wallington.
“Being back in the batter’s box was comfortable,” Garvin said. “It was normal. I have the swing I always had. It’s muscle memory.”
Garvin still has to do a lot of stretching before games, and still goes for therapy. He walks and runs with a bit of a limp, and he said it does feel worse in cold weather.
Garvin is still deciding on a college with Penn State and Montclair State atop his list. He knows that college ball is a long shot, which is why he’s cherishing every second on the diamond these days.
“Right now, I’m looking at this as my last shot to prove that there’s still gas in my tank, and I can be the player I used to be,” said Garvin, who wants to be a coach someday.
One thing Garvin doesn’t do is feel sorry for himself and waste time wondering what might have been.
“Why do that?” Garvin said. “I can’t go back in time and change things. I have my chance here now, and I am going to make the most of it.
” ‘Can’t’ isn’t a word to me anymore. I just want to show people that you don’t stop, don’t harp on an injury because you can get back.”