FREEBURG — Back in the late 1980s, the rock band Cinderella had a big hit with the song "Don't Know What You Got Till It's Gone."
Those lyrics pretty much summed up the early high school baseball career of Freeburg High junior Cody Siebenberger, who suffered a serious leg and back injury during the summer of his eighth grade year that kept him away from the sport for nearly two years.
He missed nearly all of his freshman and sophomore seasons.
"You don't know what you have until it's gone -- and everything was gone for me," said Siebenberger, now a junior outfielder and Freeburg's top hitter. "I had to find strength from God to keep going. That was why I kept working. to get back out on the field."
Siebenberger suffered the injury while rounding first base in a Junior Legion game before his freshman year. Not only did he tear his hamstring, his growth plate separated from his pelvic bone. A later diagnosis showed his spine was misaligned, adding another level of difficulty to an already serious medical situation.
Watching Siebenberger track down fly balls in the spacious GCS Ballpark outfield Monday and deliver countless hits and stolen bases this season, it's tough to imagine him ever being hurt at all.
The speedy junior is hitting .453 with 11 doubles, one home run, 17 RBIs, 43 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. He's also one of the team's top defensive outfielders and an all-out aggressive terror on the basepaths for the Midgets' Class 2A state tournament qualifier.
The road back was full of setbacks, both physical and mental.
At times it seemed he might never play again, but Siebenberger simply wouldn't take "no" for an answer.
Not when there was more baseball to be played. Not when his friends and teammates were hitting and fielding and throwing while he was undergoing several days a week of rigorous physical therapy and exercises.
"It was really the love of the game," Cody Siebenberger said. "I've loved baseball ever since I could walk or pick up a bat and I couldn't let an injury take it away from me. The hard work's paying off."
Siebenberger remembers all those trips to doctors and hospitals and physical therapy centers. They all seem a bit more distant now that he's a starter and impact player on Freeburg's first state baseball tournament qualifier since 2002.
"He had a huge road back," said Siebenberger's father, Doug Siebenberger. "Most people would have just quit, but he really relied on his faith and his hard work. It's really cool to see him succeed after everything that he's dealt with."
Siebenberger is one of many proud dads from Freeburg making the trip to Peoria for the state tournament. But he can't help feeling a little more special knowing what his son has endured to reach this incredibly bright spot in his career.
"It's a very cool feeling because I know the work he's put into baseball," said Doug Siebenberger, a former catcher at Belleville West and St. Louis University. "There's a lot of life lessons to be learned in baseball, the ups and downs and sticking it out ad things like that.
"I'm really happy for a lot of these kids because I've coached a lot of them before."
Does Siebenberger see some of himself in his son?
"Honestly, Cody has a lot more talent than I have but he's also an unbelievable worker," Doug Siebenberger said. "He never takes a day off. I was never the most gifted athlete in the world, I had to work at it. The harder you worker in baseball, the better you get. It's one of those kinds of sports."
Cody Siebenberger returned to baseball on a limited basis near the end of last season, first with the junior varsity and later with the varsity.
He also played a full summer season in 2013 with the St. Louis Pirates travel team.
Are there times on the field where he still thinks about the injury and its horrific after-effects?
"When you rip off your hamstring rounding first, that first time you hit another double and you're rounding first it's definitely in the back of your mind," Siebenberger said. "It took a lot of mental toughness to get through that, just trying to get comfortable again out there."
It also took three or four days a week of physical therapy for up to six hours at a time. It took anti-gravity treadmills and doctors and nurses and specialists and chiropractors.
It took acupuncture and shoe orthotics and just about every medical treatment they could send Siebenberger's way. It took hours in batting cages and hauling in hundreds of fly balls.
But like a high fastball, he kept turning those treatments into line drives and moving on to the next one.
"I feel comfortable again and I feel healthy," he said. "It's amazing, really."