SAN FRANCISCO -- Marcus Stroman could not have felt any lower when he tore the ACL in his left knee last spring, but as the Blue Jays right-hander looks backs now, he thinks it might have been a blessing in disguise.
Not only did Stroman return in September and play a pivotal role for Toronto in the postseason, but he went back to Duke University during his rehab process to complete his sociology degree. The days were long, the work was hard, but the countless hours will all be worth it when he walks across the stage on Sunday afternoon.
Stroman will be in attendance to receive his diploma at Duke's spring commencement on Sunday. Many friends and family members will be there as Stroman officially fulfills the promise he made to his mother back in 2012 that he would complete his education. To put it mildly, it's a dream come true.
"I can't wait, it was a long time coming," Stroman said. "There was a lot that went into this, and the fact that I have my whole family, my friends there with me, I can't wait to walk across that stage.
"I never thought I'd say I was thankful for tearing my ACL, but I am, because I grew so much as an individual. I was able to get my degree and I got stronger mentally, physically, through it all. I'm in a great position now, and that has a large part to do with the summer I had at Duke University."
Stroman was several credits short of his degree when the Blue Jays selected him in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft. The possibility of turning pro was too good to pass up, but he left the school that spring knowing he had some unfinished business.
Stroman's original thought was that he wouldn't be able to graduate until his playing career was over. That was a less-than-ideal scenario for someone who placed such an importance on getting his degree, but considering the grueling schedule of a professional athlete -- where a true offseason lasts for about a month before daily workouts begin -- there really wasn't a viable alternative.
That changed last March when Stroman went down with the devastating injury. He was originally ruled out for the season and faced a six-month recovery. It was one of the most depressing moments of his life, but instead of dwelling on it, he decided to make the most of the situation.
Together with his mother and the Blue Jays, Stroman made plans to return to Duke. Once there, he would not only complete his degree, but also work with some of the best medical professionals in the business on his injury rehab. A typical day saw him go through two lengthy rounds of physical therapy, with an additional four hours in the classroom.
"It's quite an honor," manager John Gibbons said. "It probably helped distract him a little bit. He put in a lot of long hours. But I admire the kid. That was his original goal. His parents wanted him to get an education. That was important to him, and it really opened up the perfect opportunity to finish up. If that doesn't happen, who knows when he gets a chance to go back."
Stroman didn't know until somewhat recently that he would be able to attend his graduation ceremony. He got the start Wednesday afternoon against the Giants at AT&T Park, and he isn't scheduled to pitch again until Tuesday at home vs. the Rays. The six-day break lined up perfectly for Duke's graduation with his peers.
The pride Stroman has for Duke is obvious. He's a proud supporter of Blue Devils basketball, frequently wears the university's colors and often refers to it as "one of the top undergraduate schools in the country." That's what drew Stroman to the school in the first place, and after getting so close to his degree, the decision to finish it was easy.
A formal education might not seem important to a lot of athletes who are on the verge of enjoying a multimillion-dollar career, but considering everything Stroman went through to get to this point, it was a no-brainer. There was simply no way he was not going to live up the promise he made to his mother more than four years ago.
"When I went to college, I chose Duke to graduate from there," Stroman said. "You don't choose a place like Duke to leave early. I was honestly upset when I had to leave.
"Obviously I couldn't turn down what was being offered, but I was upset because I didn't finish my degree, and I knew how important that was to my parents. I'm ecstatic now that I was able to go back and finish that last year. Everything kind of played out perfectly."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.