In his final at-bat of the summer, something went wrong for Joey Bergman.
Bergman, the Southern Conference player of the year for College of Charleston in 2009, played summer baseball last year for the Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. In the third inning of the Gulls' final playoff game on Aug. 10, against Vermont, Bergman made a left-handed swing of his wooden bat and felt something give in his bottom hand, his right hand.
"It was just extreme pain," he said. "I finished the at-bat and got a hit, but when I went out to play defense, I couldn't even throw the ball."
Bergman had broken the hamate bone, a wedge-shaped bone just above the wrist. It's an injury that often plagues golfers and baseball players, and the resulting surgery cost Bergman about six months of recovery time.
It also may have cost him some money and draft position in next month's baseball draft. Coming off a monster junior season in 2009 -- Bergman batted .452 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs, leading the nation in runs scored (88) and finishing second in batting average -- he was drafted in the 22nd round last June by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Bergman's choice -- turn pro immediately, or gamble that he could approximate last year's numbers this season and improve his draft stock.
The versatile infielder decided to return for his senior season, then promptly got hurt, missed all of fall baseball and preseason practice and 12 games of the regular season. Bergman is batting .297 with two home runs and 22 RBIs heading into this weekend's crucial SoCon series with The Citadel at Patriots Point Field.
Regrets? None, says the 6-0, 200-pounder from Jacksonville, Fla.
"Not at all," Bergman said Thursday, just after College of Charleston's graduation practice. "It's easy to look back and think, 'I got injured, I shouldn't have come back.' But I came back because I wanted to win a championship, graduate and enjoy college one more year. All of that is still possible. That's why I came back, not to try to overachieve what I did last year."
Indeed, Bergman will graduate Saturday with a degree in business administration, and at 33-12 overall and 17-7 in the SoCon, the Cougars are second behind The Citadel (29-17, 17-4) with the regular season title, tournament championship and an NCAA regional berth all well within reach.
That doesn't mean the season has not been without frustration for Bergman, who only recently has been able even to take batting practice, and went about six months without facing live pitching.
"It stunk to get hurt, but that happens," he said. "The frustrating part was then when I came back, it hurt so much when I tried to hit. I was trying to get back in shape by playing in games, not even taking batting practice. That was hard for me, and I still don't really have the swing I had last year."
But the swing is coming around, and Bergman, who bats leadoff and plays second base, could be a huge factor down the stretch for the Cougars. He's batting .318 with seven runs scored during Charleston's current five-game win streak.
"You can tell in batting practice that his swing is a little quicker, the barrel is getting to the ball a little bit easier," said Cougars coach Monte Lee. "When you consider that he had no preseason practice, no fall season, I'm pretty impressed he's been able to do what he's done."
The Cougars, who lead the SoCon with 75 homers, have covered well for Bergman during his comeback. Center fielder Cole Rakar is seventh in the SoCon with a .376 batting average, and third baseman Matt Leeds leads the league in home runs with 17, followed in the top 10 by catcher Rob Kral (13), first baseman Greg Blake (12) and left fielder Jose Rodriguez (11).
"I think what we've done on the field this year is better than last year," Bergman said. "And if I have a choice between hitting .450 and finishing fifth in the conference, or hitting .300 and finishing first or second, I'll take the second option every time."
--The Cougars will start Christian Powell (5-3, 7.18 ERA), Kevin Decker (5-0, 4.19) and David Peterson (7-2, 4.79) on the mound this weekend. The Bulldogs will counter with Asher Wojciechowski (8-2, 2.81), Matt Talley (5-2, 4.16) and Michael Clevinger (3-2, 6.44).
--For tonight's game at Patriots Point Field, all College of Charleston faculty and staff get free admission. For Saturday's 7 p.m. game, two children get free admission with one adult ticket purchased. Sunday is Military Appreciation Day, with military personnel receiving up to four free tickets each.
--Also this weekend, the Cougars will hold an "At Bat for Mack" fundraiser for 2-year-old Mack Shieder of Columbia, who is battling leukemia. T-shirts and bracelets will be sold and a silent auction will take place.
BULLDOGS VS. COUGARS
When: 6 p.m. today, 7 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Patriots Point Field
Records: The Citadel 29-17, 17-4; C of C 33-12, 17-7
Radio: 910-AM; 1450-AM
TALE OF THE TAPE
The Citadel Category C of C
29-17 Overall record 33-12
17-4 SoCon record 17-7
.306 Team batting .314
4.92 Team ERA 5.56
48 Home runs 75
6.6 Runs/game 9.1
.957 Fielding pct. .962