After a detour, Greenly thrilled to be back on field

Milford High grad Bryce Greenly was sidelined for 14 months with a knee injury during high school. Delaware sports information photos

MILFORD — Bryce Greenly would have been excited if any college baseball program was talking to him.

After all, he was only a Milford High freshman at the time.

But this was Virginia, which captured the NCAA Division I national championship the year before.

“You get talking to a coach who just won the College World Series, it’s kind of like, ‘Wow,’” Greenly remembered.

The promising young outfielder was only 15 when he verbally committed to the Cavaliers.

Greenly’s baseball future for the foreseeable future was set.

Or was it?

In the summer after his freshman year, Greenly was trying out for a team in North Carolina. He was running a 60-yard dash when something “just felt really weird” in his left knee.

Greenly had torn his patella tendon — the tendon that connects your kneecap to your shin. In that one instant, his future took a sharp turn.

A kid who looked like he might be on track to get drafted after high school couldn’t even play baseball again for 14 months. And it’s only in the last year or so that Greenly looks like he’s fully recovered from the devastating injury.

Now, though, the red-bearded 20-year-old is a freshman outfielder at Delaware. As something of an added bonus, Greenly also discovered that he might not be too bad a relief pitcher, as well.

Even with the UD season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, Greenly is excited to come out on the other side of what was a pretty rough stretch in his life.

“When you don’t get to play the game you love for a while …,” he started. “You take it for granted when you’re on the field.

“Especially now, you get it taken away and it’s like, ‘Wow.’ I wish I was playing right now. I think I’ve been through more than most people my age when it comes to setbacks and bouncing back. I definitely don’t take it for granted any more.

“Every time you step on the field it’s a privilege.”

Career-changing injury

Nick Brannan was in an airport in San Diego when he got the call.

The Milford High baseball coach had gone to California to see the MLB All-Star Game in July 2016.

“I’m sitting in the airport and I got a phone call from Bryce saying, ‘Coach, I just went to the doctor and I have to have surgery on my PCL,’” Brannan recalled. “‘I’m going to be out for the year.’

“My first response was I just felt bad for him. I knew it was going to be the first time since he played organized ball that he was going through a season without playing.”

The son of former Milford and Delaware State baseball standout Jeff Greenly, Bryce has had a bat in his hand for as long as he can remember.

When he was 12, his dad and grandfather built a batting cage for him in his grandfather’s backyard. He still uses it.

Bryce Greenly was starting to make a name for himself as a pitcher when the season ended.

Bryce can remember eight-hour drives with his mom, Stacy Greenly-Teat, to travel-ball tournaments in North Carolina and Georgia when he was young.

“Everybody knew his name,” said Brannan. “He had a little bit of hype around him.”

But the torn MCL in his knee stopped everything for Greenly, who had also grown up playing organized football and basketball.

Greenly underwent his surgery, spending eight weeks in bed at one point. He was then told he’d torn the ligament again, only to find out — after it “turned my life upside down” for a few weeks — that he wouldn’t need a second operation after all.

“It was a really rough time,” said Greenly. “A lot of PT (physical therapy). … It’s not a common injury. Tendons don’t heal very fast. It was going along really slow.

“I had played three sports all the way through, not taking any breaks. I’m always doing something. It kind of rocked me. … Mentally, it was just hard watching everybody play and not being able to do anything.”

After a year, Greenly said he had a PRP injection that “changed my life.”

“It just made me feel relatively normal again,” he said. “Ever since then, I haven’t had any restrictions.”

When he finally did return to the field as a junior at Milford, Greenly played well enough to earn second-team All-State honors. His left leg was clearly weaker than his right, though.

“He basically played that year on one leg,” said Brannan. “And he made a tremendous difference for us.”

“My left leg was a twig compared to my right leg,” said Greenly.

The discrepancy in the strength of his two legs may also be the reason that Greenly started having back problems. Again, however, he made second-team All-State as a senior.

But Greenly also couldn’t hit like he used to.

“I didn’t feel right,” he said. “I didn’t feel like me. I didn’t have my swing. … It was just kind of weird not being me on the field.”

Greenly did go to Virginia where he said he had a good experience and learned a lot about the game. After redshirting a year, though, he decided to transfer to Delaware.

‘Fear the beard’

In his first season with the Hens, Greenly started to look like his old self at the plate again.

He played in 10 of UD’s 15 games, batting . 296 with six RBI.

But a funny thing happened.

Greenly had been a relief pitcher at times in high school and had talked to Delaware coach Jim Sherman about the possibility of pitching when he transferred. On the other hand, he hadn’t actually pitched in a couple years.

The Hens had some pitchers get hurt, however. The next thing he knew, Greenly was going out to the mound.

“They told me I hit 91 (mph) on the gun my first time on the mound,” said Greenly. “I struck out a few guys. I was happy, the coaches were happy.”

Greenly transferred to Delaware after one season at Virginia.

Suddenly, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound righthander had a regular spot in the bullpen.

In one 2.1-inning stint, he struck out five. In another 4.2-inning appearance, he struck out eight.

All told, Greenly finished with 15 strikeouts in 9.1 innings and a team-best 0.86 ERA. He was clocked as high as 92 mph.

As much as anything, though, Greenly was enjoying himself. His teammates and UD fans started yelling ‘Fear the Beard’ when he came into games.

“I always have fun pitching — especially when I was younger, before I had my knee surgery,” he said. “I had a pretty decent arm. I just throw what he (pitching coach Juan Pimentel) wants and it ended up working.

“I definitely think I earned respect. The coaches have confidence when I’m on the mound now. I have no (college) training or experience when it comes to pitching, either. I’m excited to train as a pitcher and see what I can do as compared to just going out there and winging it.”

Whatever position he plays, there’s a sense that Greenly can still live up to that potential he’s flashed throughout his career.

“Locally, I don’t think people got to see what he was really capable of in high school just because he was hampered with those injuries,” said Brannan. “I’ll be honest, I’m happier that he’s doing this now than if he was doing it in high school. This is when you want to be peaking.”

Indeed, Greenly is excited to see what happens next in his career. He’s definitely open to being a pitcher/outfielder — or outfielder/pitcher.

After redshirting at Virgina and because this season won’t count against players’ eligibility, technically, Greenly’s college career hasn’t even started yet. He still has four seasons of eligibility remaining.

“I’m just happy to have the opportunity to play ball still,” said Greenly, who is an honor-roll student. “I’ve got four years left. Man, I’ll be playing until I’m 30, hopefully. We’ll see what happens.”