Catching Up With Evan Justice '17

It was June of 2021, and Evan Justice was on top of the world.
A 6-4, 205-pound left-handed relief pitcher for N.C. State with a four-pitch repertoire (mid-90s fastball, curve, change-up, slider), the 2017 Collegiate graduate had played a vital role in the Wolfpack’s ascendence into the upper echelon of college baseball.
After creating one golden moment after another, he and his guys, the Cinderella team of the College World Series, seemed poised to compete for their first-ever NCAA championship.
The Prep League, VISAA, and All-Metro player of the year as a high school senior, Justice (1.67 earned run average, three earned runs allowed, and 22 strikeouts through 16.2 innings of tournament play) had become the Pack’s closer of choice in white-knuckle situations. His poise, focus, and Zen-like calm enabled him to disregard the pressure presented by opposing batters and the national media exposure.
Little could he imagine the turn of events that over the next 18 months would challenge his spirit and resolve like never before.
First, an outbreak of COVID unceremoniously eliminated State from the CWS.
“Heartbroken,” he posted on Twitter in the aftermath. “Absolute nightmare way to end it. To say I’m proud of my teammates would be an understatement. I’ll love this team forever.”
His career wasn’t over, though. In the Major League Baseball draft a month hence, the Colorado Rockies selected him in the fifth round and sent him to their training site in Scottsdale, Ariz., for his introduction and acclimation to life as a professional athlete.
During the following off-season, Justice returned to Raleigh to complete the requirements for his sports management degree and train for his first full season with the Spokane Indians, the Rockies’ affiliate in the High-A Northwest League.
The future once again looked bright, until it wasn’t.
In a March outing against the Los Angeles Angels before the teams broke camp, Justice strained a muscle in his left shoulder as he unleashed a slider to a left handed batter. No big deal, he thought. Quick rehab, then back to action.
Because of the location and nature of the injury, though. his recovery became a glacially slow ordeal.  
Once the season ended, he returned to Raleigh, his off-season home, and continued his rehab following a detailed plan prepared by the Rockies’ medical staff. At long last, he’s approaching 100 percent, he feels, and eagerly anticipates spring training, which begins in March, and his next team assignment.
One day recently, Justice spoke of his journey.
What do you recall about the injury?
It happened on a pitch during one of my outings in spring training. After releasing the ball, I felt a bit of a sharp pain in the back of my shoulder. That’s when I talked to the trainer and said, “I think I might have just tweaked my shoulder. I’m not sure how severe it is.”
The plan was for me go to Spokane and rehab and come back and throw for the team throughout the season. At the time of the injury, we thought I’d only miss a week or two of time. The healing process obviously took much longer than we thought, and I had to return to Arizona to rehab it at our training facility.
How do you rehab such an injury?
The main components of the process were rest and then a strengthening and mobility phase. I attempted to throw several different times but wasn’t successful because the injury had not healed as fast as we initially thought it would.
How did you manage the mental part, especially since you went through your high school and college athletic careers unscathed?
It was an extremely challenging experience, especially at first. I struggled with the concept of being injured and not being able to compete on the field, but I did my best to see the bigger picture and stay in the present and understand what’s most important on a day-to-day basis, which was doing everything I could to get healthy again.
Are you at a point where you can say, “Sure, this was no fun, but I’ve persevered and grown from facing adversity”?
I think so. Going through something like this, especially when playing baseball is now my job, has made me grow as a person and become more resilient. It’s another situation where I’ve had to deal with adversity, but I feel like I’ve been able to learn from it and make the most out of it even though it’s not what I would have chosen. Going through adversity in the moment is difficult, but I feel like I’ve always tried to take difficult situations and learn something from them because adversity is inevitable. I’d like to be prepared the best I can when it comes.
What was more difficult, being injured or being in Arizona, away from your Spokane teammates?
Both of those presented challenges. It was a weird experience to have to rehab in Arizona. There were games, but you’re not on a roster or part of a team when you’re rehabbing. That was difficult because even though I wasn’t playing in Spokane, I still enjoyed the team atmosphere and attending games on a day-to-day basis in a big stadium full of fans and rooting on my teammates. That’s something you lack in Arizona.
There were definitely physical and mental challenges. You just have to be patient with the physical part and trust the process. The mental part can be more difficult to wrap your head around. A beneficial thing for me was just accepting the situation and trying to do the best I could with the cards I was dealt.
So now, you’re basically hitting the reset button?
Exactly. The plan is to go through a full season of staying healthy and playing the best baseball that I can.