Eric Yankey: The road to recovery

Published: Jul. 14, 2016 at 10:14 PM EDT
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There are times and dates that live with people for the rest of their lives.

For former Turner Ashby star Eric Yankey June 24, 2015 will stick with him forever.

Yankey was living his childhood dream, pitching for JMU and the hometown Harrisonburg Turks. But that day his opponent wasn't a team or player, but the road to recovery that was ahead.

"I was coming around a turn. I kind of got in loose gravel. It took my truck and spun it in a 360. It ended with my side in a tree,” said Yankey. “I just waited for someone to get me out.... that five minutes was the longest time of my life."

It was 5:25 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. Eric was on his way to work ahead of Harrisonburg's road trip to Aldie that night.

But pitching suddenly wasn't on the forefront of his mind.

"When it happened I saw my hand and I thought I'll never be able to throw again,” he said. “My biggest fear was getting back to normal and being able to do every day things like everyone else."

“They called me up and told me that night after he had the accident,” said Harrisonburg Turks' manager Bob Wease. “My wife and I said a prayer right there."

Eric broke his neck, left leg and foot. He broke three fingers on his left hand, his pitching hand, his pinky was nearly severed off.

"It was one of the first things I asked the neck surgeon and hand surgeon: if I'd ever play again,” he said. "They said there was a slight chance, and it ended up being a slight chance that worked out.

Eric spent months in a neck brace, and even more rehabbing --learning how to walk, and eventually pitch again.

When James Madison's opening day rolled back around, he didn't miss a beat, reclaiming his spot in the bullpen.

"My pinky still doesn't bend. My other two fingers still hurt,” Yankey said. “Opening day was what I hoped for, but I thought it might be later down the road, but I pitched in the opening weekend, so that was awesome.”

Eight months after the crash, Eric was back with JMU. Head coach Marlin Ikenberry called him a "tireless kid" who worked hard to return.

“He made me go real slow coming back,” Eric said. “He made sure everything was fine. I'm so happy he was here.”

“I knew he'd fight and get himself back, but I'm amazed that he's back the next year honestly.” said Wease.”

He made 13 appearances for the Dukes this spring in a strong return to baseball.

"I never thought I'd get back to this point,” said Eric. “It feels like it didn't even happen now. I know someone was watching over me. I feel lucky to be back out here and doing things I was before.”

Yankey is pitching again for the Turks in 2016 playing a big part in the Turks chase for another Valley League title.