This is part three of a series of six stories profiling the faculty at MSU Sports Medicine Facility.
“With the 16th pick of the 22nd round, the Detroit Tigers select Christopher Luke Wilcox, outfielder from St. John’s High School.”
Christopher Luke Wilcox himself heard a Detroit Tigers representative say those words on June 1, 1992. Playing for a hometown team like the Detroit Tigers must have been a dream come true, but Wilcox turned it down. He wasn’t ready for the big leagues yet.
He took his talents to Western Michigan University, where he played for three years in the outfield for the Broncos. In June of 1995, Wilcox heard a similar announcement when the New York Yankees selected him in the third round of the year’s draft, about 600 spots higher than when he was selected in 1992. This time, he was ready for the bright lights of the MLB.
Wilcox bounced around the minor leagues, developing his talents before being taken by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the expansion draft following the 1997 season. He stayed there in the minors, too, before the Yankees called wanting him back. In 2000, Wilcox finally got his shot at the major leagues.
He didn’t compile many statistics in the majors, but that was just fine with him. He decided to leave baseball in 2001 and return to school at WMU, hoping to become an orthopedic surgeon. He completed his undergraduate degree at WMU, then went on to medical school at the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, finishing in 2007. From there, the sky was the limit for the now Dr. Wilcox.
“I went on to a sports medicine fellowship in Pensacola, Florida with Dr. (James) Andrews,” Wilcox said. “It was a spectacular experience. He is a wonderful person, great teacher, obviously a wealth of knowledge.”
Dr. James Andrews is one of the biggest names in orthopedic sports medicine and surgery, known for treating high profile athletes such as Drew Brees and Jack Nicklaus, among numerous others. His watchful eye helped turn Wilcox into the doctor and surgeon he is today and Wilcox remains blessed to have trained with one of the best minds in his field.
“It was an honor to have the opportunity to do that fellowship,” Wilcox said. “The one thing he offered that I was really interested in, that not a lot of people do and he does a plethora of, is the Tommy John procedures.”
The Tommy John injury used to be devastating to major league pitchers before 1974, when the surgery was first performed. It is an injury to the elbow and Andrews had perfected the craft. He passed this valuable skill on to MSU’s Wilcox.
Wilcox joined the MSU Sports Medicine team in 2013, having the opportunity to rejoin some of his trainers during his residency at MSU. Getting to again be a part of the MSU Sports Medicine program was another blessing for Wilcox.
“The chance to be working with athletics and to be back here with a program like Michigan State has just been wonderful,” Wilcox said. “My partners and I, we all share that same sort of mentality and same sort of view on life. We are the same sort of family people and have similar standards and goals and moral compass. It makes it a great environment to work with guys that you not only trust as partners but that you get along with very well.”
The MSU Sports Medicine team is no doubt very grateful themselves to have a doctor like Wilcox working with them. He works with baseball injuries intimately, but helps out in other areas like football, as well as being the head physician for Lansing Catholic High School.
Wilcox has played in Yankee Stadium and now helps baseball players at MSU work toward that same dream. Wilcox especially credits two people with helping him achieve the position he is in today — his mother and father.
“My parents were extremely adamant about having a solid educational foundation,” Wilcox said. “Both my brothers and I, all three of us played college baseball and have gone on to have nice, real careers outside of baseball because our parents really hit it home that we had to take care of business in the classroom first.”
The traditional life lesson most parents give to their kids of “work first, play later” paid off in the long run for Wilcox. He enjoyed his time in the majors, but looking back on it, he is beyond satisfied that he ended up in the field of medicine instead of baseball.
Most high school kids who get drafted, especially by their hometown club, would have their minds racing about the major league possibilities. Wilcox stayed focused. He worked first and played later, just like his parents taught him. He never thought it would be baseball or bust.
Surgeon or bust? That seems more conceivable.