Chris Carmain's fastball reached 94 mph despite sometimes searing pain in his elbow.
Then last summer, he felt a pop in his arm after throwing a pitch.
"I threw another pitch and it felt like someone had shot me in the elbow," he said. "Just excruciating pain."
His hand felt hot, then tingly. Then it began to feel cold and he couldn't feel it anymore.
Carmain, 20, of Methuen, a Northeastern University pitcher, said he had felt pain in his elbow as early as Little League but never told anyone.
"You don't want to come off the field, ever," Carmain said. "There's definitely an aspect of pressure that you don't want to let the team down."
The pop he felt last summer was his ulnar collateral ligament tearing. The ligament connects two bones — the humerus in the upper arm and the ulna in the forearm — stabilizing the elbow joint.
MRI scans showed the ligament had begun to tear in high school, when Carmain was pitching for St. John's Prep in Danvers.
Carmain underwent ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, better known as Tommy John surgery, on Aug. 18.
He'll miss the 2012 baseball season but has learned an important lesson.
"Definitely, if you're experiencing pain, get it checked out," Carmain said. "Don't wait."
Carmain also learned that he spent his high school years doing the wrong shoulder-strengthening exercises and, as a result, he had an especially weak shoulder.
He got the word when he visited Dr. Luke Oh after his tear. Oh is an orthopedic surgeon who performs about 40 Tommy John surgeries a year at Massachusetts General Hospital.
As the number of Tommy John surgeries grows among adults and teens, shoulder strength is becoming a major issue for young pitchers. The right kind of shoulder strengthening exercises can help avoid Tommy John surgery, or recover from it.