You just tweaked a hamstring. Or you sprained an ankle. Or popped something in your elbow. Or, on that last pitch, your shoulder felt like it had just been stabbed by a broken beer bottle. You get injured and it’s bad. There’s pain, sometimes lots of pain. There’s concern that you’ll hurt yourself somewhere else by favoring your injury and putting stress on other body parts. There’s disappointment. After you believed you had put yourself through the most intense off season conditioning regimen and had taken good care of yourself as the season progressed, to hurt yourself and throw you closer to square one is a killer.
But there’s a worse part to an injury.
Who likes to be fooled? Maybe your buddy, who asks for $500, swears he’s good for it. And he isn’t. Maybe the woman who woke up next to you isn’t really 21 like she said she was and like her “drivers license” indicated. Maybe your agent says you’re his top priority then won’t return your calls. Your reaction to these moments is frustration, embarrassment, even a little fear. And you swear you’ll never fall for that stuff again.
Then you get injured. You go through the incident itself – maybe running down the first base line, maybe a short right field collision, maybe tripping over a helmet on the way back into the dugout – and you survived. It hurt when it happened, but after one, maybe two nights of little sleep (pain & worry the main reasons), you’ve mentally accepted that this happened to you. Injuries heal. You’re not going to die. You’ll eventually be fine. So you let the swelling go down, you have your surgery, you do your rehab – or, you just let time pass. It’s all dependent upon what you did to yourself.
One day, you suddenly feel pretty good. Cool. You recall that getting out of bed, literally, had been painful just a few mornings before. Brushing your teeth or pouring cereal into the bowl or practically scrunching into the fetal position to jam yourself into your ’83 Camaro (buy American!) had been acts of near-suicide. Today, that’s gone. Your body doesn’t hurt like it did just a few days before. Even yesterday’s shadow pain – more muscle memory than real pain – isn’t there. It’s like the old days, pre-injury. There’s one thought that pops into your brain:
This is the worst part of an injury. You’re not cured. You’re fooling yourself into thinking that folding your body into a car is the same as swinging a Louisville Slugger at a 97 mph squiggly fastball. You think that because you can brush your teeth, you can suddenly throw a 97 mph squiggly fastball (when you never broke 89 mph before). Since shaking a box of Fruit Loops into a porcelain bowl didn’t hurt, you can now toss your body against an outfield wall, slide headfirst into first base, or engage in a brawl near the pitcher’s mound like you’ve always done. The worst part of an injury is deceiving yourself, emotionally bowling over reality with a new package of extra strength denial, and airing out the arm or hacking away in the cage when you’re not ready.
Here’s where players can make their injuries worse. Here’s where certain “setbacks” are alluded to be a team spokesman. “Edgardo had a setback while running today. We’ll take a look in a few days and see how he’s feeling.” In other words, Edgardo woke up feeling like a million bucks. He’s young, so his desire to earn a million bucks (times 5 or 10) ASAP tricked him into thinking he was all better. He got to the park early, made sure nobody on the coaching staff, none of the trainers, not one teammate, was looking, and he did his thing. He sprinted from home to first base. Only, since he had only healed to the point that driving himself to the ballpark didn’t hurt anymore, he didn’t make it to first base. He tried pulling up 20 feet short of 90 and fell. Because a trainer or an assistant to an assistant GM turned at just the right time to see this fool fall, he didn’t have to get up on his own. And guess what? The next day, it hurt like hell to get into that Porsche 911 (he almost dialed 9-1-1 at one point).
You like to think maturity helps keep a lid on reality as the years go by. But contract status has a lot to do with how “mature” a player can be. In the third year of a five-year deal? No need to push it. The doctors will greenlight me. But, if you’re on a year-to-year career trajectory and the season is winding down, you need to show them. Who? Anyone with a checkbook. You need to show them that you’re a quick healer or that you can play at less than 100% and still be effective. You need them to know you’re a gamer. You convince yourself that you’re suddenly fine because you need a deal for 2010, if anything, for the medical benefits. Rather than listen to the doctor who told you you’re still a few weeks, or a month, or a couple of months away from beginning baseball activities again, you use your index of cereal bowl indicators to convince yourself that you know more than any M.D. And when you feel the intense pain later that day from your self-proclaimed “test,” it’s a worse feeling than when the injury happened in the first place. You know you’ve just lost another week or two or three with your stupidity. Or you know, deep down, that you hurt something else. You didn’t listen and now you suffer the consequences.
Next time you hear the prognosis on a guy playing for your favorite team, pray very hard to the Baseball Gods that he listens to his doctor. Use your witchcraft or voodoo dolls to make sure he sticks to the prescribed comeback regimen. Because if he falls for self-deception that one sunny morning, when the OJ with some pulp tastes amazing because it didn’t hurt to pour it into the big cup, he’s going to test himself and will soon know what the worst part of his injury is. His own bullheaded stupidity.
Jimmy Scott is probably the greatest pitcher you’ve never heard of. Visit Jimmy Scott’s High & Tight to read more from Jimmy and guests Desi Relaford, Eric Valent & Cassidy Dover. You’ll also hear a new interview every Monday morning with former MLB players, agents, wives and others; giving new outlooks on this great game we call Baseball. Go there now to hear Jimmy’s latest interviews with Rollie Fingers, Desi Relaford, Brent Mayne and MLB Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt. You can follow Jimmy on Twitter or Facebook.