Just a few months ago, now Dodge City Community College catcher Amanda Best wasn’t sure if she would ever again play the sport she loved.


Just a few months ago, now Dodge City Community College catcher Amanda Best wasn’t sure if she would ever again play the sport she loved.
     It all happened in an instant during her high school’s run in the Colorado state playoffs. She had been feeling discomfort in her throwing elbow, a nerve-racking red flag for most baseball and softball athletes.
     Then the moment occurred. On a throw to first base, Best felt the pop that so many athletes don’t want to hear.
     A preliminary scan revealed that she had “tennis elbow,” a condition where the ligaments in the elbow are strained, providing a painful feeling when attempting to participate in a sport that involves movement of the elbow. So Best continued to play until her team finished its state schedule, where she went back to receive an official MRI on her bothersome limb.
     That’s when she heard the words no softball player wants to hear — you need Tommy John surgery.

A little bit of luck
     Tommy John surgery, which is named after a famous baseball pitcher, is required when the ulnar collateral ligament is torn. The procedure removes another tendon from a different portion of the body to replace the torn ligament.
     For most baseball and softball players, this type of surgery is a death sentence to their career.
     “When I heard that I would have to have to have that type of procedure, it really dug deep and was mentally draining,” Best said. “I contemplated never playing again, and I tried to be as mentally strong as I could be to get through it. It took me 11 months, and I’m still not 100 percent, but there were moments where I just wanted to give up.”
     Rewind just a few weeks prior to her injury. Best’s summer ball teammate, Alexis Walters, was being scoped out by coaches from Dodge City Community College.
     In a bit of luck, Alexis’ father asked head coach Howie Smith if he wanted to look at a potential Division I caliber catcher on that team. And with that, Smith was introduced to Best and her cannon arm.
     “Despite the wind that was blowing the day she tried out for us, she was still popping it from home to second base in under two seconds, and it wasn’t no more than three feet off the ground,” Smith said. “Then I watched her catch our pitchers from last year, and she handled them very well. We knew that behind the plate and on the mound was where we needed to solidify ourselves first.”
     The Conqs were coming off a dismal 5-37 performance the year before and were looking to shake things up. They had problems behind the plate, as opposing teams had stolen 162 bases against Dodge.
     So understandably, it was difficult to sell Best on a 5-win team, but she saw promise in what they were building.
     “I ended up here because our pitcher from Grand Junction, Alexis, put my name out there, and I came here and I loved it,” Best said. “Coach Smith said that this was going to be a completely different program this year, so I just went with it. I told myself that if I didn’t like it, then I could work around it, which didn’t end up being the case.”
     After seeing her arm and the potential she had as an offensive weapon, Smith offered her a scholarship to be a Conq in the fall of 2011.
     And that’s when disaster struck.
     But even though Best was dealing with an injury that normally requires nine to 12 months of rehabilitation time, the coaching staff stuck with her as she went through with the surgery and was forced to miss all of fall softball with the team.
     “She called me crying after a home game that we had. The muscles in her elbow had tore, and she was scared I was going to take her scholarship away,” Smith said. “I knew that when she told me she was going to have the surgery within a week and then she was going to work with the physical therapist from the Colorado Rockies, that she would be getting the best of the best in trying to get back.
     "Here’s a kid that doesn’t want to sit down. She wants to play, and she has become a vocal leader and our quarterback on the field.”

Making a comeback
     So Best completed her comeback from elbow surgery by taking the field in Dodge City’s first game against Western Oklahoma State, where she went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. But that is when the light bulb clicked.
     Ever since that sluggish start, Best has been on a tear unlike anything ever seen before in the Lady Conq softball program. Going into today’s playoff series with Hesston, Best has set a school record with 17 home runs (which is among the top 10 in the nation), while compiling a .448 batting average with 45 RBIs and 39 runs scored.
     “She hits every ball so hard, and if I’m a pitcher or a third baseman, I’d be scared up there,” Smith said. “I thought she could hit for a high average because I knew she would hit the ball hard and create opportunities for herself, but for a freshman coming in after sitting out a full year, she’s been a great addition for our team.”
     In perhaps the greatest statistic of all to show how much Best has changed this team, she has allowed just nine stolen bases against her this year, throwing out 78 percent of the girls who attempt to swipe a bag. Compare that to the 162 from a year ago, and it’s easy to see how this team went from 5 to 25 wins in one year.
     Not to mention, Best has been doing this playing on one foot. During the second week of the season, she found out she had completely fractured her left heel while rounding the bases. Normally, that injury would require surgery and would have ended her season.
     Not this girl.
     While Best is required to wear a walking boot everywhere she goes — except during practice or a game — her will to win has subdued the pain in her plant foot.
     “Because of the injury, I get physical therapy on it three times a day, and it has become very challenging,” Best said. “It hurts, but I know my team needs me and I’m more of a team player than an individual. I’d rather play through the season with the pain and help my girls out.”
     Best and company head into their playoff series with Hesston College confident they can take care of business, despite being thrown so many curveballs in the form of season-ending injuries.
     But for Best, losing is not an option and it never has been. This weekend has become about winning one for her family that has taken her under their wing in Dodge City.
     “We have come together so much as a team during the year, and we have shown we love the game despite all the setbacks,” she said. “Each girls picks up one another and we’re there for one another — it’s like a second family. I wouldn’t ask for anything else.”