Six years ago, Tip Fairchild was rising rapidly through the Houston Astros’ minor league system. Then an elbow injury that he could barely feel put a road block in the former Monmouth Academy and University of Southern Maine star’s path to the Major Leagues.
Fairchild underwent Tommy John surgery and tried for two years to get back on that road, but soreness in that same elbow has forced him to call it a career at the age of 26.
“I just couldn’t get to where I needed to be,” Fairchild said Friday. “I’ve done it so long that I know where I need to be on January 10 or February 4, and I just couldn’t reach those goals.”
Fairchild ended last season in Houston’s Single-A affiliate in Lancaster, Calif., then took two months off to rest his arm. He said he began experiencing soreness in his right elbow as soon as he started throwing again. The source of the pain has not been diagnosed, but since it is on the outside of the elbow, it likely is not related to the May, 2007 surgery in which doctors replaced the torn ulnar collateral ligament with a tendon from his left arm. Doctors have told him it may be arthritis, and Fairchild said he is considering having the elbow scoped in the fall to get a more definitive diagnosis.
A 12th-round choice of the Astros in the 2005 amateur draft, Fairchild moved up the organizational ladder quickly as a starting pitcher after winning 14 games in Single-A in 2006. He was the first member of the organization from his draft class to reach Double-A Corpus Christi, but he injured his elbow before pitching a regular season game for the Hooks. After undergoing surgery in Houston, he rehabbed with Dr. Bob Brainerd in Auburn for over a year, then returned to Corpus Christi during the 2008 season. He was demoted to the bullpen late in the season, then released by the Astros late in spring training in 2009.
He signed with the Somerset (N.J.) Patriots of the independent Atlantic League and was having a strong season there when the Astros re-signed him and sent him to Lancaster. After going 3-3 with a 7.06 ERA in eight starts, he was not invited to Astros spring training this year.
Fairchild, who holds a business degree from USM and currently lives in Rhode Island with his girlfriend, is currently holding clinics and seminars on pitching in Rhode Island and Maine. He has his own web site, www.tipfairchild.com and has quickly filled his calendar with speaking engagements in the spring and summer. He believes his experience and the knowledge he gained from working with the likes of Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan during his pro career can be passed on to youngsters.
“It’s one of those things where I was getting requests to do it from coaches a couple of years ago, and the first year I did about 30 and last year I probably did 30 or 40,” he said. “The only thing I need to tell the coaches is who my mentors were and they’re pretty much sold.”
Fairchild sent a “Thank you” e-mail to dozens of friends and contacts early Friday and said he had already heard back from many well-wishers.
“I really appreciate the support I’ve received from everyone in Maine, and the coaches I played for were so good to me,” said Fairchild, whose coaches included his father, Bill, who coached at Oak Hill for 24 years, Keith Morang at Monmouth, Chad Drouin in Legion ball and Ed Flaherty at USM.
He said he hopes to give back all the support he received by teaching and coaching kids what he knows about the game.
“I want to give Maine kids the same opportunities that I had,” he said. “In 10 years, I want one of the kids I worked with to get drafted and say I helped him get there.”