When the Vanderbilt Commodores won the 2019 College World Series finals, it was also a personal victory for Dr. Tim Kremchek of Beacon Orthopaedics. That’s because two of the winning players were still in the game because of him.
“It was interesting for me to see that two players we had taken care of were both on the field at the same time for the College World Series,” Kremchek said. “Everybody was texting me and saying, ‘Both of these players had Tommy John surgery by you.’”
Tommy John is the popular name for ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery. It’s performed to repair a ligament on the inner part of the elbow, which can tear when a player repeatedly throws a baseball.
Kremchek, a sports medicine and orthopedic doctor who has served as the Team Medical Director for the Cincinnati Reds, the Dayton Dragons and their other minor league affiliates since 1996, has performed nearly 2,000 Tommy John surgeries throughout his career. In addition to members of local teams, he’s treated dozens of Major League Baseball pitchers with orthopedic issues, as well as many minor league and collegiate ballplayers. Recently, he’s been recognized for helping several professional athletes return to the field quickly.
“I think I’ve probably hit almost every team in Major League Baseball,” Kremchek said. “I like taking care of baseball players. We’ve learned how to do it not only with me, but my ancillary staff and rehabilitative people, our physical therapists, our trainers. We’re equipped to take care of baseball players at pretty much all levels, whether it’s for a rotator cuff, torn ACL, MCL or Tommy John injury.”
Tommy John surgery gets its name from Thomas Edward John Jr., a four-time MLB All-Star. In 1974, John was the first player to have the operation, after he was injured while pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Before then, if you injured your elbow, you were back on a farm,” Kremchek said.
Following his recovery, John was able to return to professional play, achieving more than half his career wins after the surgery. Since that time, the procedure has become routine among baseball players.
Tommy John surgery was pioneered by Dr. Frank Jobe, whom Kremchek met shortly after becoming Medical Director for the Cincinnati Reds. Kremchek also trained with Jobe’s successor, Dr. Jim Andrews.
“It’s not just a baseball injury, but it’s mostly known as a baseball type of injury,” Kremchek explained. “What we do is we take a tendon and make a new ligament on the inside part of the elbow. Typically, you get a tendon from the forearm. If you don’t have that, we use the hamstring tendon. It’s a very specialized procedure that only a handful of people around the United States do on a routine basis, and we’ve gotten good at it. Not a lot of people do them because not a lot of people take care of baseball players all the time.”
Taking care of baseball players isn’t just a job for Kremchek. Chat with him for a few minutes, and it quickly becomes clear that it’s a lifelong passion, a science and even art.
“I don’t care whether it’s boxing, baseball or soccer — you’ve got to be able to get on the same level with these guys,” Kremchek said. “You’ve got to throw MD and major league stardom out the window and start person to person. Once they gain that respect for you and what you’re going to do for them, then it’s a whole new ballgame.”
Kremchek and Beacon Orthopaedics physicians treat pros, student-athletes and weekend warriors every day. To book an appointment, visit beaconortho.com.
Beacon Orthopaedics also offers a new Baseball Throwing Program for teams and individuals. The program uses the latest technology and baseball-specific routines to help build stronger arms and prevent injuries. For more information, call 513-389-3666.
Dr. Kremchek is an advocate for injury prevention, especially in youth athletes. He calls the consistent rise of Tommy John procedures an epidemic, caused by youth athletes being pushed too hard starting at a young age.