BILLINGS — A few months ago, Billings Royals coach Bryan Benjamin figured Nick Eliason would miss the entire American Legion baseball season. Eliason had just broken both of his wrists, after all.
Benjamin was pleased to learn that his prognosis was off — Eliason has been in the lineup, in the field and on the mound for the Royals throughout this young Legion season.
Eliason, a junior at Billings Senior, is thankful the fluke injuries he suffered during basketball season didn’t jeopardize the rest of the high school athletic career, and it gave him a new perspective.
Prior to a Jan. 4 boys basketball game against Billings West, Eliason attempted some slam dunks during pregame warmups, something he had done many times before. One of his dunks came on a lob from a teammate. As he threw it down, his left fingers got caught in the net.
Eliason’s left wrist broke on the dunk attempt itself, he said. As a result of the tangle, his legs swung out and caused him to land violently on his back. He was briefly knocked out and suffered a concussion, he said, and his right wrist broke as he tried to break his fall.
Eliason was taken to the emergency room that night and had to get surgery on his right wrist (his left wrist, while broken, didn’t require a procedure).
The aftermath was difficult for Eliason to process. For one, he felt dumb for ending his basketball season in such a casual, avoidable way.
“I was just heartbroken,” he said, thinking back to his painfully long hospital stay. “You’re just sitting there and you know you can’t do anything except wait to get back. It just sucked.”
Benjamin’s initial pessimism dissipated when he learned that Eliason would be healthy near the beginning of baseball season.
Eliason missed Royals tryouts and couldn’t swing a bat until a couple weeks ago. It also took him a while to feel comfortable diving for balls in the outfield. But after a game against Rapid City (South Dakota) Post 22 on Saturday, Eliason said he felt around 95 percent. Benjamin has been impressed with the left-hander so far this season.
“Short and quick to the ball. You always talk about hit the ball where it’s pitched, and Nick really does that,” Benjamin said. “I’m just really excited that he did recover. … We were expecting him to be a big part of our team this year.”
Eliason is trying not to let the injury affect him this spring and summer, and he hopes to contribute in the same ways he did last year. In some respects, the accident will help him going forward, at least from a mental standpoint.
“Before, I was like, ‘Well, I’m only a junior, so I’ve still got another year.’ But then (I was) thinking, ‘Your season could end at any time, or even your career, just from one play,’” he said. “You’ve really got to treat every game and every play like it’s your last.”
On a related note, Eliason plans to dunk less next basketball season.