BOISE — If an offseason can seem like an eternity for a pitcher waiting to get back on the mound and face down batters, try waiting two years.
Penciled in as Monday's starter for the Boise Hawks, Josh Conway will finally make his professional debut. Drafted in 2012, he has not thrown in a meaningful game since that spring while at Coastal Carolina University.
A pair of season-ending injuries the past two years have kept Conway off the diamond, making Monday's expected start even more special.
"It's a relief," he said. "I'm just so happy to be here, and finally get started."
Conway can't help but beam when the prospect of pitching again comes up - in front of a crowd and somewhere other than extended spring training. So long has he yearned for the chance, he can remember the exact date the last time he threw in a true competitive game.
"April 26, 2012," Conway said. "When I say it, that makes it seem like a really, really long time ago."
In the baseball world, it is.
On that day, Conway threw for the Chanticleers against Liberty University, but left with elbow soreness. The next day an MRI revealed he tore a ligament and needed Tommy John surgery - an inconvenient time regardless, but especially since it was a month before the MLB draft. Still, the Chicago Cubs nabbed the right-hander in the fourth round after he went 12-3 with a 2.67 ERA in his final two college seasons.
Conway's pro career had to wait. Then, before it started, he had to wait again. In extended spring training last year, awaiting the call to begin his pro career, possibly in Boise, Conway felt a pop in his right elbow. A bone involved in the Tommy John surgery fractured, and renowned surgeon James Andrews, who did the initial surgery, told Conway it would keep him out again.
"He said it was a 1-in-400 chance - I guess I'm one of those 'lucky' ones," Conway said with a smile. "It was really tough for a bit, but I knew I had to bounce back, crush that rehab and get back."
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound pitcher did just that, building himself back up to get his shot in Boise. He will "piggyback" with Ryan McNeil, who also is coming off Tommy John surgery, switching starts with relief appearances. Conway can mix three pitches and has a strong slider that can be a weapon.
"You can tell he's itching to get out there, and he's been sharp in simulated games, so we're all kind of excited to see him," Hawks pitcher Scott Frazier said. "I couldn't imagine what it's been like for him."
All the time away was "a bit of a blessing," Conway said, allowing him to find ways to take stress of his elbow while maintaining his velocity, and adding about 10 pounds to his frame. Though he may have to shake off some rust, Conway feels he is the same sort of pitcher he was back at Costal Carolina.
"Remarkable story I'm thrilled to death, and everybody in the organization is, because of what he's had to go through," Hawks manager Gary Van Tol said. "When we do hand him the ball, we'll say 'you deserve to be here.'"
The wait is almost over, and though it was tough at times, in its own strange way, it has been worth it.
"Did it take a little while to get here? Yes. But I'm here now, and I'm proud I was able to stick through it," Conway said. "I think from here on out, whatever happens once I'm pitching in games again, I feel like I've already accomplished something."
Dave Southorn: 377-6420; Twitter: @IDS_Southorn