(EDITOR’S NOTE: Sizemore was not available for a phone interview, but responded via e-mail to questions submitted by The Herald through a Boston media relations representative.)
At his healthy best, Grady Sizemore could play baseball in a way that seemed effortless, almost easy.
But there’s been nothing easy about the series of injuries, surgeries and rehabilitations that has caused the 31-year-old Sizemore, once one of the game’s brightest stars, to miss all or part of the past five seasons, putting his baseball future in doubt.
Sizemore, a 2000 graduate of Cascade High School, is trying again this year, spending spring training with the Boston Red Sox in hopes of making the team’s 25-man roster and perhaps even the opening day starting lineup.
If he pulls it off, it would be a remarkable tale of determination and perseverance for a player who has had seven surgeries since the fall of 2009 and has not played in a major league game since 2011.
“It’s just frustrating dealing with injuries, missing time, and not being able to play,” Sizemore said. “But you just try to focus on the positive and just get healthy and try to build off each day.”
During the most discouraging times, he added, “I wanted to just get back to playing. That’s all I really thought about.”
To this point, Sizemore’s career has been one of remarkable early successes followed by equally remarkable adversity. Drafted by the Montreal Expos in the third round of the 2000 draft, he bypassed a scholarship offer to play football and baseball at the University of Washington, and instead accepted a large bonus (reportedly $2 million) to sign with the Expos.
Sizemore was traded to the Cleveland Indians two years later and made his major league debut in 2004. He became the Indians’ fulltime starter in center field the next year, and in 2006 he enjoyed the first of three consecutive All-Star seasons, including two Gold Gloves.
In 2009, though, Sizemore was hampered by injuries and ended up cutting his season short for two surgeries, one on his elbow and the other on his abdomen. The next season he played just 33 games before having knee surgery, and in 2011 he spent two prolonged stretches on the disabled list with other injuries.
More surgeries followed in 2012 (back and knee), and Sizemore ended up sitting out all of that season and last season, too, as he continued to recover and rehabilitate.
During those years of uncertainty, “I never thought about quitting,” Sizemore said. “I just wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to get healthy. It just seemed no matter what I did, I kept getting injured.”
Being sidelined for so long “certainly wasn’t what I wanted,” he said, “but obviously it was one of those situations where it really wasn’t my call. It was just a matter of whether I could get healthy or not.”
A free agent this season, Sizemore signed a one-year contract with Boston for a reported $750,000 with incentives that could push the total as high as $6 million. Wanting to proceed cautiously, the Red Sox have played him in roughly half of the team’s exhibition games.
On Monday, Sizemore furthered his bid to be the team’s starting center fielder this season when he collected three hits against St. Louis to raise his spring batting average to .381. He also made two outstanding catches — one was a diving grab in the left-center field gap and the other came an instant before Sizemore crashed into the outfield wall.
It was, Boston manager John Farrell told mlb.com, “a little bit of a flashback to how good Grady was for a number of years.”
But for Sizemore, the important thing is not spring stats. The priority is getting healthy and confident for a season that is now just two weeks away.
“I feel good,” said Sizemore, who makes his offseason home in Arizona. “I’m still building off each day and still going through the rehab process. Even though I’m playing games I still have a lot of work to do and a lot of gains to make.
“In terms of this season, I’m just taking it day to day. I’m trying to get as healthy as I can and get back into baseball shape. I’ll let it play out, however it plays out.”