KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Atlanta Braves prospect Tim Gustafson and the other rehabbing pitchers sometimes compare scars.
"Mine is a little longer," said Gustafson, displaying the 5-inch welt on the inside of his right elbow. "I guess it's because they had to take out bone spurs, too."
When the Braves minor-leaguers leave spring training in early April, Gustafson will be staying back at Disney's Wide World of Sports. The recovery from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery isn't a short one.
Gustafson - a former Parkview and Georgia Tech standout - had his first professional season cut short last year and will miss a good part of his second.
"Everything is all listed on a calendar," Gustafson said. "But I don't like having to flip all the pages."
Gustafson had surgery in Atlanta in September and reported to Florida in early January to begin his rehab program. He likely will be here through most of August, beginning his return to action in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
"Don't get me wrong, Orlando is a nice place," Gustafson said. "But I'm trying to get away as soon as I can."
Shoulder problems curtailed Gustafson in his junior year at Georgia Tech, dropping him to the ninth round in the 2006 draft. Then last season at Class A Rome ended a month early.
"I came back stronger than ever from the shoulder," the 23-year-old said. "Hopefully it will be the same with my elbow."
Gustafson got off to a good start at Rome. He posted a 3.33 ERA in five April starts and had 24 strikeouts in 241/3 innings.
Things went downhill from there, however. After a start in late July, Gustafson could hardly straighten out his arm.
Gustafson and the Braves hoped it was just bone spurs causing the problem, but that wasn't the case. Ligament surgery was necessary, with Braves physician Dr. Xavier Duralde performing it at Piedmont Hospital.
"He said the ligament was gray, beat up and battered," Gustafson said. "So it wasn't a new injury. I don't know how long I had been pitching with it. But I know that my arm wasn't right."
Gustafson is playing catch from 125 feet now and should be able to get on the mound in April, although he'll just be throwing at about 50 percent.
"It will be a long process of bullpen sessions," he said.
When the Gulf Coast League season starts in June, Gustafson hopes to be ready to pitch in a game.
Initially, Gustafson will be working one-inning stints. When he gets up to about 75 pitches, it will be time to escape from Florida.
"Maybe I'll be ready to help one of our teams in the playoffs," Gustafson said.
But he knows better than to get too far ahead of himself.
"I know I have to be patient and not try to rush things," Gustafson said.
At least Gustafson has a former Georgia Tech teammate to room with. Lee Hyde, from Fayetteville, had elbow surgery last season as well and is also in the rehab program.
"We've tried to make the hotel room feel as much like home as we can," Gustafson said.
When Gustafson and Hyde were young, they would have probably loved six to eight months just outside the gates to the Magic Kingdom. But not know.
"Even Disney World gets old," Gustafson said.
SideBar: THE GUSTAFSON FILE
Who: Tim Gustafson
Position: Right-handed pitcher in Braves organization, ninth-round draft choice in 2006
Size: 6-foot-3, 210 pounds
College: Georgia Tech
High School: Parkview
2007 stats: 3-8 with 5.01 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 1111/3 innings over 22 games at Class A Rome before going on disabled list Aug. 1
Noteworthy: Rehabbing after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery in September; played with Jeff Francoeur and Clint Sammons of the Braves at Parkview, winning three state championships in football and two in baseball