I kind of know how Rhett Deaton feels.
Did I ever win a conference championship or experience postseason play as a college player? No. Was I ever looked at as one of the key contributors on the football team I played for? Also no.
But I know what it's like to have severe injuries play a significant part in deciding to hang up your career. The big difference, however, is that I suffered my leg fracture/ankle dislocation in the first game of my redshirt freshman season. I was able to rehab and recover in time to participate in practices the next spring, but the exhaustive nature of rehabilitation, along with the uncertainty of even getting a roster spot the next season, led me to call it quits so I could focus on my degree.
Not the case at all with Deaton. The Winnsboro, Texas, native first had Tommy John surgery in high school but rebounded from that to pitch at Paris (Texas) Junior College before coming to McNeese State.
His 2017 season ended early because of injuries to the rotator cuff and labrum in his throwing shoulder. Prior to the injury, he had an 8-3 record with a 3.78 earned run average in 14 starts to help the Cowboys win the Southland Conference regular-season title.
After missing the entire 2018 season to recover from the injuries and subsequent surgery to fix them, Deaton came back in 2019 and was one of McNeese's top two starting pitchers. He was the Cowboys' Friday starting pitcher in conference play. Being the Friday pitcher is pretty much being called the ace without officially being called the ace.
The most amazing thing about Deaton's season was something that the public didn't find out until this week, way after the season's conclusion: he pitched most of the season with a torn rotator cuff in that same throwing shoulder that was hurt in 2017.
Deaton had an 8-4 record with a 3.95 ERA, 58 strikeouts and 35 walks — with a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.
He struggled at the start of the season, particularly in a loss to Texas State. But based on the timeline Deaton gave, the shoulder really started hurting after the Nicholls State game on March 1, his third start of the season. So the fact that he was able to adjust and rehab and make it through the season is a testament to not just his toughness, but the work of the athletic trainer Kate Pinkerton.
The injury forced Deaton to adjust his workouts and he had to cut down bullpen sessions. He said the pain would linger 48 hours after his starts, but he didn't tell McNeese head coach Justin Hill because he wanted to be treated the same.
Honestly, so many things about this story are amazing. The fact that he was not only able to make it through the whole season, but how effective he was. Also, the stress he put on the shoulder with nine starts of six or more innings pitched and five starts with at least 100 pitches.
To me, his defining performance came in the second game of the SLC Tournament, when Deaton pitched 7 1/3 innings and allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits, striking out four and walking one to help propel the Cowboys to a 7-2 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. That performance, in that situation, with that injury, against an Islanders lineup that could hit, was amazing.
While Deaton definitely didn't end his season — or career — how he wanted in the NCAA Tournament against Ohio State, he should have nothing to be ashamed of. Like Hill said, the Cowboys don't even make it that far without Deaton's performances, like the complete-game win at Abilene Christian in the regular season or the four-hit shutout against Stephen F. Austin the week after that.
He's retiring from baseball with no regrets, and rightfully so. He gave it all and then some to help the Cowboys succeed on the diamond. He got to go out as a conference champion and NCAA Tournament participant.
Best of luck to Deaton moving forward. Give that shoulder the rest, rehab and relaxation it deserves.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org