Chavez is convinced his right knee, severely injured in a grotesque outfield collision with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt when they played in 2009 for the Seattle Mariners, will fully recover. Hes confident his speed, the key element to his game, will return.
I feel good, Chavez, a non-roster invitee with the Texas Rangers, said Tuesday before the Rangers played the Mariners. The thing I care about most is running, and I think Im doing pretty good.
Chavez hasnt felt this good in a long time.
The injury on June 19, 2009, when he sprinted in for a fly ball to shallow left field as Betancourt sprinted out was one of the worst ever suffered by a Mariner. Chavez tore the anterior cruciate ligament, the medial collateral ligament and a portion of the meniscus in his right knee.
The recovery time initially was estimated at 9-12 months.
It has been nearly twice that long, but Chavez is back on the field feeling good. He has played in all three of the Rangers spring training games, including Tuesdays when he started in left field and went 1-for-2.
There were a lot of times when I thought I wasnt going to play baseball anymore, Chavez said. That was a pretty bad injury and I didnt think I could run again. But I was strong in my mind and I said I had nothing to lose. I had to try and go forward. I focused on getting healthy and I made it. This is my second opportunity to grow up in baseball.
Chavez, 33, retains a vivid mental image of the collision, along with his surprise that Betancourt had become part of the play.
I will always keep the memory, he said. I always know where my teammates are at. In that specific fly ball, I was confident that nobody was going to be there. I wasnt looking for Yuniesky. He surprised me when I saw him there. In another case, thats not going to happen.
It ended what had been a solid season for a player who not only had filled the Mariners left-field void, but also batted leadoff while Ichiro Suzuki began the season on the disabled list because of a bleeding ulcer. Chavez batted .273 with a .328 on-base percentage, nine steals and two home runs in 54 games.
He said the worst part of his recovery was the mental letdown he felt last summer at the one-year mark, a time when he believed he should have been well enough to play.
I thought I would be better, but my knee was still bothering me, he said. That was tough for me. All I could do was continue to work hard, do my exercises.
He pushed himself to play some minor-league games last summer with the Texas Rangers, whod signed him, but he realized quickly the knee wasnt well.
I knew I wasnt ready yet, Chavez said. I played eight games and hurt my knee again and had to stop for the rest of the season.
Swelling was the problem this time, and all he could do was rest. He gave it another go during winter ball in Venezuela and, despite some soreness early, Chavez experienced a breakthrough.
It was tough in the beginning to get the rhythm of the game. I had felt a little uncomfortable. I wasnt confident at all running, stopping, he said. But the more I continued to play, the more confident I became. After three weeks I felt pretty good and knew I could do everything in the field. I just thought about the game and not about my knee.
Despite what hes been through for more than 20 months, Chavez says he doesnt flinch on shallow fly balls to the outfield.
Im not afraid of the game, he said. I just play baseball like nothing happened. I thank God. When you fall down, youve got to get up and continue.
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