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With Tommy-John Finally in the Rearview, Roman Kimball is Ready to Take the Mound for South Carolina this Spring

Updated: Jan 26

By AJ Sessions


607 Days. That's the length of time between Roman Kimball's last in-game pitching performance and South Carolina's Opening Day in 2024. That's over a year and a half since he has been able to play the game he loves. Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel is within reach.


Kimball has been working back from Tommy-John surgery since last fall, a process that is draining both mentally and physically. Rehabbing from Tommy-John provides no instant gratification and pushes your level of dedication and commitment to the process. I asked how he was able to grind through the tough days during rehab, especially early on in the process.


“The biggest thing for me was just taking it one day at a time," Kimball remembers. "Throughout the rehab process, there were definitely days where you wake up and go 'man, this is so monotonous, I really don’t want to do this,' but going back to last year and seeing how we ended the season, you never want to feel like that again… You have some self-discipline. I remember going out there on days I didn’t want to do it, but I’d still give 100% effort, because this is what I’m working for. I’ve worked my whole life for this, and just to be able to get back this year and be healthy and contribute to a winning team would be the best thing I could ask for.”


The effort and energy with which Kimball committed himself to the rehab process was clear right away to new Pitching Coach Matt Williams.


“The first time I saw Roman play catch, I thought it really impressed me the way he was attacking Tommy-John," Williams said. "Obviously, the work ethic is off the charts; he does a really good job from that standpoint.”


Work ethic is something the coaching and training staffs have never had to worry about with Kimball, and he made use of every possible source of information to make sure he was going through the recovery process in the absolute best way. That included leaning on some teammates who had been through Tommy-John as well.


“Having guys like Jack Mahoney and James Hicks in the locker room last year who also went through it, and those are higher-up guys, said Kimball. "They got drafted last year. It’s always good to have those guys around you and to just be able to bounce feedback off them and ask questions about what they went through. To be able to have those guys in the locker room is a big help.”


In a process that absolutely cannot be rushed, it can be incredibly difficult to remain patient. Fortunately for South Carolina, they are blessed with an incredibly diligent and passionate trainer who takes an active role in making sure players are doing what they need to do to get back on the field.


“I give a lot of credit to our athletic trainer Cory (Barton) on all the TJ stuff, because he does a great job," Kimball said. "He is always in touch with the doctors on what we should or shouldn’t be doing, always on top of starting new stuff and making sure everyone is accounted for with their needs.”


After months of tedious rehabilitation, Kimball was finally able to move through the process from dry throwing, to throwing very lightly and very little, to throwing off a mound at restricted effort, until he was finally cleared to begin approaching full effort with his fastball. It was not until Kimball was cleared to face hitters though, that he finally felt like he was able to feel a sense of relief.


"The first time I threw live was really like 'Alright, this is it, we’re back, we’re throwing to hitters again," Kimball recalls. "(The) season’s right around the corner, and being healthy again is right around the corner'… getting that step from rehabbing and following protocol to now like basically back on your own, you’re throwing to hitters, you’re back in that competitive nature… even though there aren’t 10,000 people in the stands because we are not playing Clemson on Friday night, but just to be able to face hitters again and be back in that competitive nature was a huge sigh of relief for me.”


Now, Kimball is back throwing all of his pitches at full strength. When asked about his readiness for the season, he gave a very well-balanced response. Despite his natural instinct wanting to be unleashed right away and give everything he has for his team, Kimball understands that being around for the long-haul is more important and understands that the coaching staff believes this as well.


“No doubt in my mind that I could go out there and give you 100 pitches on Opening Day," Kimball declares. "I’m a competitor, always have been a competitor, always will be, so if I’m throwing well and I’m on a pitch count, I might not be too happy about it. But, I do appreciate that the coaches take care of their guys. Whatever it may be the opening weekend, they are not going to put me in a bad situation where I could be getting hurt or overused. The strategy for the beginning of the year is that I’m going to compete for however long they ask me to, and when that time is up, go back in the dugout and watch the rest of the game and hopefully enjoy a nice win after 9 innings.”


For those who are wondering what Kimball's popular YouTube content will look like during the season, that is still in the ironing out stages. The question, however, is not "if" but "who".


“I’m definitely hoping to give the camera to somebody else," Kimball says. "I have to find a reliable candidate… I’m not quite sure how it is going to work on days I’m not throwing. I do have to talk to (Head) Coach (Mark) Kingston about that, but the content has been a blast over the last year. I’ve been able to grow so much with the fanbase and capture some of the moments. Whether it be (Ethan) Petry’s homerun off (LSU ace Paul) Skenes or winning the Regional, it’s grown so much, and I didn’t even play. I’m excited for the content this year to see where it goes because I will actually be on the field.”


There is one certainty. When asked to list who was on his list of people he doesn't trust to hold the camera, Kimball laughingly said, “Jerz (Eli Jerzembeck) is definitely number 1 on the list. No offense to Jerz, he knows he’s pretty clumsy.”


If you haven't checked out Roman's YouTube channel, it is a fantastic look behind the curtain of the life of an SEC athlete. Plus, you get the bonus of getting to see what some players and coaches personalities are like as well. The content Kimball has been able to make has been a mutual blessing for both himself and Gamecock fans. The amount of love Kimball received from the South Carolina fanbase was beyond what he could have hoped for, and he can't wait to finally play in front of them.


“It’s definitely a great feeling knowing the fanbase is behind you," Kimball says, "and even when you’re off the field and people are rooting for you and excited for you to get back, that’s one of the best things about this fanbase and why it’s one of the best in college baseball... I’m definitely looking forward to going out and pitching in front of the fans here. Throughout the past year of just doing the YouTube stuff, Twitter and Instagram, all the support the fans have shown me throughout my year and more here at Carolina so far has been crazy. I was not even imagining the support I would have gotten for not playing last year from the fanbase.”


In a recent press conference, Kingston gave a little insight as to what pitcher Roman reminds the staff of: “He reminds us of a Roy Oswalt… he’s a little undersized but with an extremely quick, athletic motion. Quick arm, has a really good breaking ball. Last fall, he was statistically our best pitcher last fall before he got injured. We are very excited about him.”


With so many things that could be on Kimball's mind as the season approaches, he remains completely dedicated to helping get the Gamecocks back to a place they haven't been since 2012.


“The number one goal for me of course is go to Omaha and win a national title and bring back Gamecock baseball to where it should be," said Kimball. "Setting that standard is obviously the number one goal, but if we are talking personal goals? Maybe SEC Pitcher of the Year, I want to strike out a bunch of guys, get a lot of innings, and be one of the guys for the team this year.


"I know a lot of people are talking down on the pitching staff this year right now and are kind of curious as to what it’s going to be, but internally, we all know our pitching staff is legit. I’m excited to see what everyone has got, and I’m excited to prove a lot of people wrong too… We definitely see all of that stuff on Twitter. The other night, we were on Twitter listening to y’all’s (College Baseball Central) rankings, so that was pretty fun. We know, but we just look at last year. Everybody was saying our offense wasn’t going to be good, but we all knew.”


Kimball is the only member of this South Carolina roster who actually has Omaha experience. In his mind, he has no doubts about this team's potential in 2024: “[After] being in Omaha and seeing what an Omaha team looks like, once you experience it, you know. I knew last year that we were an Omaha-caliber team right off the bat, and it’s the same thing this year. We have the talent. We have the offensive power. We have the arms. We can play defense. You just know.”


Now that he has almost completed his 607-day long journey back to the mound, Kimball has his sights set on giving his all for his teammates, his coaches, and the fanbase that has given him so much love and support throughout his time on campus.


“I just give all my thanks to God. It’s been a long process, but I’m excited to go back out there and throw in front of the 10,000 fans at Founders Park.”


*****

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