But back to baseball, some of you may have read the discussion that Fred and I were having in the comments section of his latest post relative to Chipper’s rehab. For those of you who may have missed it, Mark Bowman has a nice piece about the process over on the Braves website (check it out here)..
The article states that Chipper is optimistic that he will be ready for opening day, and to my reading has an overall positive tone. However, it does allude to several developments that I think are cause for concern: 1) He is experiencing significant tendinitis in the knee 2) He is having to take cortisone treatments for the problem 3) He has been unable to bat from the right side without pain, at least before the treatments 4) Quoting Chipper) it “…feels like my left leg is five pounds heavier than my right” 5) He has yet to do any drills that mimic real life, putting lateral stress on the knee. Wow, when you look at it that way, is there real cause for concern?
I’m no orthopaedic surgeon (I don’t even play one on TV), but I do have access to one. You may have heard me allude to that in an earlier post. As I don’t want to make him wish he never met me (or, worse yet, stop talking to me!), I only had a brief and highly hypothetical discussion with him on this. What he did say left me feeling rather encouraged. Paraphrasing, he basically said that, assuming the knee appeared to be sound structurally, that tendinitis is normal and to be expected as the knee is stressed. He also said that, with treatment, the symptoms tend to dissipate over time. Further, he said that the feedback from the patient himself was probably the best indicator of progress. He also said that, for an athlete, pain tolerance levels come into play, as some discomfort might always be there. Finally, the normal “I’m not his doctor, your mileage may vary” comments were thrown in there.
So, what is one to make of all this? On the plus side, we have a world-class, Hall-Of-Fame bound athlete that we are discussing. He’s also very motivated, both to preserve and enhance his legacy (he has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t want the last memories of fans to be of him being helped off the field), and because he was hitting at a very high level when he went down. He also believes that the Braves have put together a team that could make it to the World Series. We also have been told that the procedure went perfectly and have no evidence to the contrary. Chipper knows the process, having gone through it, only to a much worse degree, when he injured the same knee in 1993, only that time it required invasive surgery, rather than the arthroscopic procedure used this time. Finally, Chipper himself thinks that he is actually further along than he thought he would be at this point, and seems convinced he’ll be the opening day starter (hmm, I still wonder about his one game suspension from last year).
OK, how about the negative side? Well, for one, you can’t overlook Chipper’s age (39 on April 24th); he can’t possible heal like he did 16+ years ago. Secondly, he says that he needs to play without pain, without worrying about the knee. I seriously doubt that all the discomfort will ever go away. My bet is that Chipper differentiates in his mind between discomfort and true pain. He plays with aches and pains every day (he’s even described his wife having to push on his back with her feet to help him get out of bed on some days). I think he’ll play through discomfort without worrying about the knee. Third, he really needs to be able to hit without pain. If nothing else, he’ll lose his torque and torque equals power. Based on what he said, I think we’ll know this week if this is an issue, as he says the cortisone treatments have made the pain go away. He just needs to get back in the batting cage and verify that the right-handed swing is again pain-free. Finally, I think the hardest test has yet to happen: that’s when he has to charge a bunt, plant, and throw. Or even jump and throw (as an aside, it would be OK with me if he NEVER tried to jump and throw again. Ever). Until he shows that the knee has lateral mobility, and that he won’t be tentative in the field, we just won’t know the answer.
So what do I think? I think this is only a bump in the road. In Michigan we have so many potholes that we don’t even notice that roads have bumps! I think that he’s going to play in 120+ games this season, but have a day off a week. But I also think that if there is a serious setback in the recovery we’ll know about it during the first week of spring training, hopefully giving Frank Wren and Company time to execute backup plan “B”. Opinions?