There are a lot worse places where one can go to heal from surgery than on a beach in southern California.
For the past two months and for the immediate future, Michael Kohn’s residence is listed as Manhattan Beach, Cal. For someone who would rather spend his days and nights inside a Major League Baseball stadium or, any baseball park for that matter, having your temporary digs some 200 yards from the Pacific Ocean is not the hardest life getting used to.
Kohn, a 29-year-old Camden native, is sitting out the season for the second time in his major league career after having undergone rotator cuff surgery on Oct. 15, 2015 which came five months and 12 days after the Atlanta Braves’ reliever appeared in a game against the Cincinnati Reds.
As he left the Turner Field mound that night, Kohn thought something was wrong in his right (throwing) shoulder. One night later, he worked two-thirds of an inning against the Philadelphia Phillies. Following that appearance, he knew something was not right and the Braves shut down their one-year free agent signee.
Thinking the injury needed just time, Kohn went to the team’s spring training complex in Orlando , Fla., where he underwent rehab treatment for three months before returning to the mound.
“I made two rehab starts and after my second one, I knew right away that something was wrong in the shoulder,” Kohn said. “I tried to come back from it and, unfortunately, it never came back.
“We knew something was wrong in the shoulder, they just didn’t know the severity of it. Once I heard it (the sound from the injury) coming back from rehab, the doctor went in there to see what was wrong and unfortunately, it was torn so I had to get it repaired.”
Kohn sat out the entire 2012 season while a member of the Los Angeles Angels after having undergone Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. For this ailment, he asked around as to which surgeon he should see to repair what was diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff.
Kohn’s Tommy John surgery was performed by noted specialist, Dr. James Andrews. The two men consulted on this latest injury sustained by the 2004 Camden High graduate only to have Kohn go in a different direction than having the Birmingham, Ala.-based Andrews work on the shoulder.
“I saw Andrews, probably three or four times throughout the year last year and was consulting with him about my shoulder,” Kohn said. “The reason I went to New York was because there’s a doctor there by the name of Dr. (David) Altchek. He is well-known throughout the league for being a good shoulder guy, not that Andrews isn’t, but I decided to go to New York and the Hospital for Special Surgery to have Dr. Altchek, who is the Mets’ team doctor, do the procedure.”
The decision to have Altchek perform the operation was not one which Kohn went into without having done his homework. He talked with former Angels and Braves teammate Jason Grilli and retired relief pitcher Matt Capps, both of whom had shoulder surgery performed by Altchek, for their advice and their take as to what to expect and how their operations went. He also sought the advice of other MLB players. Each time, the reviews on Altchek came back positive on the physician who also serves as a medical consultant to the NBA.
“When I talked to guys around the league, his name kept coming up,” Kohn said of the decision to try and get in to see Altchek. “I went in for a consultation and felt comfortable after the consultation to go with him.”
While examining Kohn, Altchek determined the injury was not a fully blown rotator cuff; rather, the diagnosis came back as it being a partially torn rotator cuff. The surgery entailed Altchek placing a pair of anchors in front of the injured shoulder to reattach the tendons. When he came out of surgery, Kohn was greeted with the news he was hoping to hear from Altchek.
“They didn’t come out of my surgery saying, ‘This is really bad.’ They came out and told me that I would come back fine and that it would just take some time,” Kohn said in a phone interview from his temporary base in Los Angeles.
“The one thing (Altchek) was very happy about was that my labrum was very, very strong and intact. For a pitcher, labrum surgery is probably the hardest surgery to fully come back from. He was very happy with the way the labrum looked.”
With the first step toward recovery complete, Kohn’s next move was to determine where he would undergo months of therapy on the shoulder after returning to his home in Charleston to recovery from surgery. Not being allowed to have much physical activity, one of the first people Kohn sought for advice was Dr. Bernard Li, the physical therapist with the Angels.
Li, an instructor of Clinical Physical Therapy in the University of South California’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, is also on the staff at Meyer Sports IT in Los Angeles. He told Kohn that he would get no better treatment than at the facility which is run by Dr. John Meyer and his wife, Dr. Lisa Meyer.
While Kohn trusted the advice of Li, when he found out more about John Meyer, who is the senior physical therapist for the Department of Athletic Medicine at the University of Southern California, he knew he had to ship his car to the west coast and begin his rehab under Meyer’s watch.
“The people who I’m rehabbing with in L.A. … they are some phenomenal people out here,” Kohn said. “John Meyer, who is the head of all USC athletics, is also the guy who rehabbed Kobe Bryant back from his Achilles injury. Right away, I knew that if a guy like Kobe Bryant is trusting (Meyer) with his career that I needed to come out here.”
Meyer’s facility specializes in the treatment and rehabilitation of professional athletes. While there, Kohn said he has worked with All-Pro NFL running back Arian Foster. Now, at the conclusion of the season, NBA players are filtering in for treatment. Last year, New York Mets All-Star third baseman David Wright rehabbed at Meyers’ center.
“It’s very comfortable being around other peers in the professional world and knowing that they trust John and his wife Lisa, who run the place,” Kohn said of his decision to go west. “It’s very comforting to see these guys every day.”
Kohn’s treatment routine has him visiting the Meyers’ four times a week with Wednesday being a day to recover between sessions. Each visit starts with an hour of being rubbed down and loosening the muscles in the right shoulder. For the next two hours, Kohn does a complete body workout.
Recently, Kohn’s routine has included switching over to another sport in preparing his shoulder and muscles for eventually being able to throw a baseball again.
“The program right now is a lot of shoulder work and a lot of shoulder-strengthening, obviously. There are also a ton of leg exercises. We believe in strengthening the whole body,” he said.
“I started throwing a football about three weeks ago. We’re hoping that, in the next two to three weeks, I will pick up a baseball again and start to throw it.”
So far, everything is on, if not ahead of, schedule to the point where Kohn said he has to “knock on wood” so as not to jinx himself and the recovery process. “Everything has been great,” he said of his health status. “My strength is coming back quick. We’re just trying to get back the range of motion. With the shoulder, that’s the hardest thing to get back after shoulder surgery.”
Kohn’s voice also struck a hopeful tone as compared to that in 2012, when his elbow surgery took him away from the game he loved.
Drafted by the Angels out of the College of Charleston in the 13th round of the 2008 MLB Draft, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder tore though the organization’s minor league ranks. After not having been used as a pitcher until his senior campaign in Charleston and having pitched a total of 13 innings as a collegian, Kohn took over as the closer in his stops in Rookie, class A, AA and AAA ball racking up 33 saves and fashioning a 13-5 record in just less than two full seasons of minor league ball before being promoted to the Angels on July 26, 2010.
A late-game, one-inning specialist, Kohn had two wins and a pair of saves in 2010 and 2011. But in spring training of 2012, his right elbow started barking. The end result was going under the surgeon’s scalpel as his season was over before the first pitch of the regular season. He rehabbed the injury in Charleston.
Kohn accepted the news and went through the MLB with all the grace of a kid who had his parents revoke his swimming privileges for the entire summer.
“I maybe watched a total of nine innings that entire year,” Kohn said of a 2012 season in which the Angels finished third in the American League West standings. “I was 24 at the time and I wanted nothing to do with baseball. I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to be around it. I was kind of upset at the game.”
Four years later, things are different. In 2013, Kohn sported a 1-0 record with a 2.35 earned run average in 33 appearances leading to his name being placed on the players’ ballot for the American League All-Star roster. A year later Kohn won two of his three decisions and had 26 strikeouts in 23.2 innings only to be sent back to AAA. By season’s end, he was a free agent.
Early in 2015, he signed with the Tampa Bay Rays before getting his release before spring training. He then fulfilled a childhood dream in signing a one-year deal with Atlanta. But his days as a Brave ended after six appearances thanks to his shoulder issue.
The Michael Kohn of 2016 is a far cry from that of four years earlier in how he is dealing with this latest setback. The fact that he is around his friends and teammates such as Angels’ All-Star outfielder Mike Trout and starting pitcher Garrett Richards has made not being on the field a bit more bearable.
“Being somewhat of a seasoned veteran who has been around the game for a long time now,” said the 29-year-old, “it’s easier for me to watch games, especially being out in L.A. and getting to see the Angels every night. Last week, I was with Trout and Richards and went out to see them.
“It’s cool to see them and watch the team because I spent seven years with the Angels out of my eight-year (professional) career. I watch their games and it’s actually fun now. I can study and learn more from the game whereas in 2012, I didn’t want to be around it at all.”
Don’t get the idea, however, that Kohn likes sitting in the stands so much that he is not champing at the bit to get back on the field. He said at the rate which he is progressing, he is hoping that come next January or February, he will be back to 100 percent and ready to report to some team’s spring training whether it be in Arizona or, Florida.
Kohn has yet to gauge what interest which teams will have in a pitcher who has sat out the season and is returning from shoulder surgery. He is leaving that part of the equation up to his agent. It is a change from 2012 when, after surgery, Kohn was still under contract to the Angels. This time around, he is on the open market.
In similar instances, players have worked out for teams or, have held individual workouts in which all MLB franchises were invited to attend a throwing session to make their own assessment on an available player with major league experience.
Kohn said he does not know which road his next journey will take him down.
“My agent handles all that. I haven’t talked much about it,” said the former Camden High and Post 17 American Legion star. “Once I become healthy and I know that my strength is back, I don’t know what I will have to do. If I have to work out for teams, so be it; that’s fine with me. If teams have to come see me, that’s great. If teams want to sign me unseen, that’s great, too. I really don’t know the whole process, yet. My first and foremost interest is getting back healthy before I start doing any of that stuff.”
For someone who has had to prove himself more than once before in his amateur and professional baseball careers, Michael Kohn just wants another shot. When, where or by what means it comes about is not something he sits up at nightthinking about anymore.
“Obviously,” Kohn said while he excused himself for a second to pet a leashed dog which sidled up alongside him, “any time you have a major injury that puts you out for a full year or, possibly longer, you are concerned with how you are going to bounce back.
“Once I come back to the form that I know I can pitch at, I’m not really interested in whether or not teams aren’t as interested in me as they were before. I just want the opportunity; which has been that way my whole career. If you just give me an opportunity, then I’ll run with it.”