As far as broken necks go, Jonny Homza got off pretty lucky.
Things could have been a lot worse for the 23-year-old professional baseball player from Anchorage after he suffered a cervical fracture from a mountain bike crash in October.
He had flipped over the handlebars of his bike, landed on his head and cracked his neck.
Not only did he walk away from his gnarly wipeout on a Hillside trail, but he was back on the baseball field a few months later in preparation for the 2022 season in the San Diego Padres farm system.
Even better, he got promoted, earning a preseason call up from Single-A Fort Wayne to Double-A San Antonio, placing him one step closer to the big leagues.
In a matter of months, Homza went from breaking his neck to breaking in with a new team.
“I feel extremely lucky,” he said. “I feel like I got a second chance and it has changed my perspective on things a little bit.”
A fifth-round MLB draft pick in 2017 out of South High, Homza is the second-highest draft pick from Alaska and enters his fifth pro season, having advanced from Rookie Ball to Low-A to High-A to Double-A.
The converted catcher worked his way up the ranks while climbing the charts among Alaska hitters at the pro level, sliding into the No. 3 spot all-time with 224 hits, 19 home runs and 120 RBIs in 276 career games.
However, his bright future took a dark turn on Oct. 10, 2021, when he crashed his mountain bike after taking a jump on a single-track trail and landing awkwardly, causing him to flip over his handle bars and land on his head.
He was wearing a helmet and he was alone. He was in a lot of pain, but not enough to worry him.
“I thought if it was something serious, I’d be in a little more pain,” Homza said.
With his adrenaline racing, he got back on his bike and continued riding.
“I kind of coasted down and then sort of walked the rest of the way to the trail where my dad was picking me up,” Homza said.
He went home, assuming it wasn’t a big deal.
“Apparently it’s not that uncommon for someone to have cervical fracture and not really know it,” Homza said. “Nobody was surprised that I didn’t go see somebody right away.”
Everything changed the next morning, however. This was more than a sore neck, and he had a splitting headache, so he went to the emergency room.
It was there, after an X-ray showed his cervical fracture, that he learned of the severity of his injury. He was taken straight to surgery.
“It was scary,” Homza said.
A three-inch scar on the back of his neck is still fresh, just like the memory of that dreadful day.
“It’s definitely something I think about a lot because my neck will still get stiff,” he said. “It is on my mind, but most of the time when I think about it, I think about how lucky I am that it wasn’t worse.
“I got lucky.”
Homza has turned the page and returned to the field, thanks in large part to the support of his family and the Padres.
The organization made sure its prized prospect had the help he needed to aid his comeback by sending a trainer to Alaska a week after the accident.
“They were really cool,” Homza said of the Padres.
Homza’s post-op recovery took place at his parents’ home, where his dad Tom was also recovering from spinal surgery.
Tom had a scheduled L4-L5 lumbar fusion just two days after Jonny had a C6-C7 spinal fusion.
They were both laid up in the same house at the same time.
They called themselves ‘The Vertabros.’
“It was kind of helpful to go through that with my dad,” Homza said.
The rock star was Jonny’s mom, Julie, who did the heavy lifting while ‘The Vertabros’ were laid up.
“She’s amazing,” Tom said. “She kept us extremely well fed and always kept score for Yahtzee, Farkle and all the many card games we played.”
Even though Homza is a big fan of playing chess and watching episodes of ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Family Guy,’ it wasn’t all fun and games for him.
He set up a daily routine, teaching himself Spanish in the morning before turning his attention to baseball and watching videos in the afternoon via an extensive and exclusive database of all pro hitters.
He also went to eyesight training as part of his physical training.
For Thanksgiving the family traveled to Seattle to watch his older brother Willy run the Seattle Marathon.
By then Homza was just beginning to get out of his neck brace for an hour or two a day but by the time the family got to Mexico for Christmas, the brace was gone for good.
A few months later he was back on the field and now the whole accident is a distant memory.
“I’m really thrilled about my recovery,” Homza said. “I don’t know what the standard timeline is but I definitely had tons of help from the Padres and lots of people helping me out to recover the way I have.”
Fan favourite Jonny Homza looking great with the @Padres #TuataraNation pic.twitter.com/eBZ6kCdBS3
— Auckland Tuatara Baseball (@AucklandTuatara) March 22, 2022