The scars are about five inches long on Kevin Tokarski's left forearm.
They form an 'L' near his wrist and stand out thanks to a large tan line from the compressive sleeve he wears over them during Illinois State's baseball games.
They are also reminders of how far Tokarski has come after a trio of wrist surgeries to repair a lingering injury almost took baseball away. In that sense, his scars are beautiful.
"Every now and then, I look at them as kind of a reminder," said Tokarski, a dynamite leadoff hitter who bounced back by winning the Missouri Valley Conference's Player of the Year Award. "Sometimes, it makes me feel pretty good to notice them — especially if I've had a bad day."
After excelling as a freshman, Tokarski missed last season after he felt a pop in his left wrist during summer ball. The injury was first diagnosed as tendinitis, then as a torn ligament and eventually as a bone that didn't heal right from being broken in football when Tokarski was 12.
Indianapolis-based hand surgeon Dr. Hill Hastings said he needed to re-break the bone and surgically rebuild Tokarski's wrist, which led to screws and a metal plate being inserted. The final surgery was to remove screws that were too long and causing discomfort.
Once they were gone, the wrist healed to the point Tokarski could play again. That's when he started setting goals. He kept it simple for this season, but wound up helping the Redbirds tie Wichita State for the regular-season MVC crown by hitting .433 and slugging six home runs with 43 RBIs. He also led ISU to the conference tournament championship Saturday in a 17-8 victory over the Shockers.
For Tokarski, the season has been a blur — from hitting the first pitch he saw at Austin Peay off the wall to setting ISU's single-season hits record by clubbing his first career grand slam in the tournament.
"I have no idea how to explain it," Tokarski said. "The only expectation I had going into the season was just to play the first game and play the majority of the year. I wasn't looking to be the player of the year or first team all-conference or hit over .400 or anything else."
Instead, he did all of the above.
"It's a great success story," said ISU coach Mark Kingston, who took over the program last season. "It's hard to believe a guy can have three wrist surgeries and do what he's done this year. We thought we'd have a nice, scrappy leadoff hitter who could steal some bases and handle second base. Obviously, we got so much more."
Kevin Tokarski file
College: Illinois State.
Class: Sophomore (redshirt).
High school: Downers Grove North.
Position: Second base.
Stats: .433 avg., 6 HR, 43 RBIs, .547 OBP, .708 SLG, 27-31 SB.
FYI: Tokarski has two brothers, one older and one younger. Older brother Mike also played baseball at Illinois State; younger brother Joe plays football at College of DuPage. His father, Gary, played football at the University of Miami (Fla.).
Catching up with Downers Grove North's Kevin Tokarski: Illinois State leadoff man knows pain, knows gain
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