SAN FRANCISCO -- Oftentimes, life will throw you a curveball. And this year -- this chaotic, trying, life-changing year -- Giants catcher Buster Posey has seen more than his share.
At times, what's transpired in the life the of 24-year-old Leesburg native seems straight from a bad movie script, one that should never be allowed to see the light of day. Yet, there have also been other moments in Posey's life this year that have the makings of a fairy tale.
It all started on a clear, beautiful night in the Bay Area on May 25.
Wait, let's back up.
It actually all started in January -- three months after Posey led the Giants to their first World Series title since 1958, while also winning National League Rookie of the Year -- when he got another piece of news that amazingly trumped both achievements: He was going to be a father.
And not just any ol' father, but a father of twins. One boy. One girl.
"We knew we were going to be parents going into the season, but what we didn't know was that I would be at home during it," Posey said during a phone interview with The Herald this week of his wife Kristen, who is due to give birth any day. Kristen will have Buster by her side every step of the way during labor and delivery, but not due to any planning by either of the high school sweethearts.
In fact, it's quite the opposite.
You see, Buster should've been in Miami this week, suiting up to play the Florida Marlins as the Giants try to keep from falling any further behind the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West.
But that's where this story takes a dark turn. One that no one could've anticipated.
That's where that clear, beautiful night on May 25 comes into play. The night that saw Posey's sophomore season -- a season filled with hope, promise and the dream of repeating as World Series champions -- come to a gut-wrenching end.
That's the night, during the top of the 12th inning in a home game against the Marlins, when a little-known player named Scott Cousins barreled over the household name in Posey at home plate as Cousins tried to score the game-winning run.
Cousins succeeded -- but it came at the expense of the rest of Posey's season.
Posey lay face down in the dirt, writhing in pain as a small crowd formed around him and the fans at AT&T Park held their breath. In one ear, he heard the Giants' trainer asking him what hurt. In another, he heard Cousins apologizing.
But it was too late. The damage was done.
A broken left fibula. Three torn tendons in his ankle. And just like that, in a matter of seconds, one of the brightest careers in Major League Baseball was officially shelved, and on such a seemingly un-controversial play that quickly became the center of a heated debate around the country for weeks.
In the aftermath some three months later, however, there is one thing Posey has come to realize about the curveball thrown to him by life that night: There is, in fact, a silver lining to come out of one of his lowest possible moments.
"The silver lining to the injury is that I'm going to get to be here with Kristen," Posey said. "If I hadn't gotten hurt, we would be on a road trip to the East Coast right now, and I would be a nervous wreck. We're about a week out (from Kristen giving birth), and if I would've been in Miami when she goes into labor, there's a good chance I wouldn't had even made it back in time. It could've been a not-so-good situation.
"I can't even imagine."
CAUGHT ON CAMERA
Anyone who knows Poesy knows that he's a humble, grounded, even-keel kind of guy, and he's never been much for the limelight -- even if it constantly seems to find him.
So when the Showtime network and the Giants came to agreement to have a documentary series filmed about their 2011 season, the execs for the show -- entitled "The Franchise" -- likely couldn't wait to get a camera on San Francisco's Golden Boy who no one will argue was one of the catalysts to its World Series victory and rise to fame last season.
But before Posey's story line could even be developed for the show -- tracing back his baseball roots to the Dixie Youth League fields in Leesburg, then at Lee County High and eventually Florida State -- it took a dramatic turn in the very first episode. Posey was introduced with a flashback to the television interview he did in February with ESPN about the dangers that come with playing the position of catcher. The music playing in the background had a sad, ominous tone as video clips of Posey catching for the Giants led viewers up to the moment, while ESPN's interview with Posey talking played over it.
"The catching position, there's always a little bit of anxiousness -- is he going to slide, is he going to try to take you out?" Posey said as the music grew louder. "If you brace for it, you're going to be OK. But the throw, if it's from right field and it takes you up the line, there's a good chance you're going to get smoked pretty good on those."
Then, the music fell silent, the footage panned away from Posey and quickly went to the night of the hit by Cousins, who was trying to score from third on a sacrifice fly. Posey, now sitting on a couch with his leg in a cast during his interview for the Showtime docu-series, called the play "a perfect storm."
"The ball's hit to right center, so even peripherally, I can't really see the runner," Posey said on the show. "I had to go to my right just to try to catch the ball. It was bang-bang -- instantaneous. So I assume he's sliding, and come back to make the tag. And as soon as I do that, he's coming across and hitting me. You know, I'm blown up."
Just two days after images of Posey being practically carried off the field that night were burned in the brain of every Giants fans, Posey was ruled out for the rest of the year. Giants GM Brian Saben then blasted Cousins to the media, saying, "If I never hear from Cousins again or he never plays another game in the big leagues, I think we'll all be happy."
Cousins, a native of San Francisco, started receiving death threats, despite his repeated public apologies to Posey. And in the middle of it all, a debate began raging over whether MLB needed to change the rules to better protect the catcher. Baseball purists argued that running into the catcher was simply part of the game -- always has been, always should be -- while those seeking for pro sports, in general, to take steps to becoming safer came to Posey's defense.
And Posey was right in the middle of it all -- saying, at the time, that he agreed the rule needed to be looked at -- although he has since tried to distance himself from the controversy.
"I don't know if I've necessarily backed off (wanting the rule changed), I've tried to just kind of lay low on this whole thing," Posey told The Herald. "I want to focus on getting better, first and foremost. That's my primary goal. But I think you can ask anybody, and they'd be in favor of making the game safer. If that will happen ... I don't know. I don't know if that will happen. But I mean, those are rules that have been around a long time, and baseball's been around a long time. And rules like that are not changed easily.
"It's just one of those things. You've got certain people who are one side of the fence, and other people on the other side of the fence. And I understand where both sides are coming from. So it's not something I think is easily going to be changed."
Posey, however, said his argument has always been, 'Is the rule worth keeping if it could potentially end someone's season, like it did his?'
"The difficult part of (people saying) that it's part of the game is that, like in my case, I'm out for the last four months of the year. I mean, that's one play that happened in a split second and I'm out for fourth months," Posey said. "My argument, I guess, is just .... is it worth having that rule if the repercussions are so severe?"
Posey said he never spoke to Cousins, nor does he plan to.
"No, I never talked to him," Posey said. "It happened and it's over with, and we're moving on."
Posey also said he doesn't ever think about the hit.
"No, no ... it's never bothered me. I was able to watch it the night it happened. And then the day after. And over and over again," he said. "I even did an interview with Bob Costas where we sat there and he made me watch it about 15 times. He was trying to just get me fired up, I think."
Posey's injury, and how dramatically it affected the team during a season in which they're defending a World Series crown, was the only time in the hour-long season premiere of "The Franchise" where the mood became somber and uncertain. Posey hasn't been featured on the show since as he continues his rehab, but likely will be profiled and have his progress updated before the season finale at the end of August.
Posey told The Herald he was unsure about doing the show at first, but after watching the season premiere in mid-July, he quickly changed his mind.
"I was definitely skeptical when I first heard about it," Posey said. "But after seeing a couple of the episodes, I think they've done a pretty good job with it ... It's really been pretty cool."
Posey said his favorite parts of the show are the scenes with off-the-wall closer Brian Wilson and his trademark beard, as well as the story of redemption about Giants journeyman starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong, who has been dynamite this year for San Francisco, where he revived his career this season after finding himself out of the majors at one point and playing several years in Japan.
"They did a good job with the Vogelsong story, being in the big leagues 10 years ago and then going to Japan. And he comes back, he's 33 or 34, and he's just dominating (for us now)," he said. "And with Brian, you can see why the cameras want to follow him around. You just never know what you're going to get out of him. You're just waiting to see what he comes up with next."
But while the producer's for "The Franchise" may have had a different angle they wanted to focus on when featuring Posey before they first started filming for the show at spring training, his story has now turned from the Giants' brightest young up-and-comer to injured superstar.
Posey, however, said that hasn't detoured the show's cameras.
"(Even while I rehab), they're still filming me quite a bit," he said with a laugh.
LONG ROAD BACK
When Buster and Kristen left San Francisco after the championship parade last season for their home in Leesburg -- and eventually onto a vacation in Key West -- Buster said they never thought when they headed into Year 2, so much would change along the way.
Now, instead of Kristen cheering her husband on nightly as she watches Buster catching behind the plate for the Giants, he's home with her every evening, albeit limping his way around the house, practically immobile. The fibula fracture and torn tendons in his ankle were the first major -- or minor -- injury of Buster's entire career, including high school, college and the minor leagues.
"Nope," Buster said when asked if he could ever remember missing even a week during his career. "Never really ever been hurt before."
During the first month of rehab, doctor's orders were to do nothing and simply take it easy. After eight weeks, Posey had the screws taken out of his ankle, which took place just last month. Then he went from crutches to a walking boot. And just last week, there was a report he was running short, easy laps around the Giants' weight room at AT&T Park.
When asked to explain his feelings at this stage in the rehab after all he's gone through in the last three months since the collision at home plate, Posey took a deep breath and collected his thoughts.
"Well ... physically, I'm right on track to where I need to be, if not a little ahead. I've been walking now without crutches for about a week, and I'm now in a boot. (The walking boot is) not as good as being able to walk around in a tennis shoe, but it's better than crutches. So I'm really happy with that, and hopefully I'll be out of the boot in a week or two," he said. "(When I lose the boot), I think the rehab process is really going to speed up from there and I'll start to make progress. We'll work on my range of motion more then -- that's the biggest thing we were concerned about is being able to have that range of motion on my ankle needed to catch. Overall, I'm on track, but I've still long ways to go still before returning.
"(As far as how I feel mentally), of course you miss (playing), but I think my knowing that I'm not able to do it physically has helped me deal with being out. Now, if I was close to being back in action physically -- like if I had a strain or something and I felt good, but it was still holding me back -- that would be different. But the fact is, I'm barely able to walk, so I'm not even thinking about going out and catching and running and throwing."
Posey then added: "Now, if I said I wasn't sitting here thinking about being healthy enough to return for the playoffs, I'd be lying to you. Right now, I'm just disappointed I'm not going to have the opportunity to help this team."
And the Giants sure could use his help.
After taking the lead in the NL West into the All-Star break by two games, they're now three games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Arizona has won 6-of-7, while San Francisco has lost 11 of the last 15. After the All-Star break, the Giants traded for New York Mets slugger Carlos Beltran -- who Posey called "a nice guy" and "very professional" -- but so far, Beltran has been out hurt for almost a week after batting .244 with a double, two triples and two RBI in 11 games for San Francisco following the trade.
So it's no secret the Giants desperately miss Posey's bat.
"The main thing (I think about to try to stay positive) is just knowing and tell yourself, 'You're gonna be back.' I'm going to keep on staying positive and working and trying to get stronger," said Posey, who batted .305 with 18 homers, 23 doubles, two triples and 67 RBI in 108 games last year for the Giants after being called up in late May from Triple A Fresno. Posey hit .284 with four homers and five doubles this season before he was injured.
"I can't really pinpoint why we're struggling, I think that (baseball is just a game of streaks). When you play a 162 games, you're bound to go through a little downswing," he said.. "We did this last year in August, too. We didn't play well in August, but then we caught fire in the postseason."
Of course, before the Giants can think about the postseason, they have to make it there first. And that begs a question about Posey's availability, should the Giants win the division or the NL Wild Card.
Is it possible -- ala Willis Reed -- he could return this year?
"I don't think so. I haven't been told that, and I would have to be put on roster before playoffs started," Posey said. "I couldn't be added in the middle of the playoffs, so I doubt it."
Then again, who knows, right? It's been a crazy year for Posey, and there's no telling what's in store next.
Other than the fact he's about to have his hands full with twins.
Buster said a funny thing happened the day he and Kristen went to the doctor for their first visit after finding out she was pregnant.
"They started looking for the heartbeat, and the doctor says to us, 'Well, there's one heartbeat ... and then there's another,' " Posey said, recalling the moment he and Kristen found out they were having twins. "It didn't even register at first. You're just like, 'What? Are you sure?' It all happened so fast, and for the next two weeks, your whole mindset changes. One minute you think you're having one kid, and then all of the sudden you find out you're having two. It was a little overwhelming at first."
The wives and girlfriends of Posey's Giants teammates helped ease that anxiety some in June when they threw Kristen a baby shower, where Buster said the Giants family, "Really took care of us. They were great and they got us everything we could possibly need."
However, there was one gift in particular which Buster said was easily his favorite.
"It's gotta be the little baby 'Posey' jerseys we received. One looks just like the one we wear (for the boy) and the other one is a pink baby Posey jersey (for the girl)," he said with a laugh. "They actually sell them (at AT&T Park) at the Giants' gift shop. That was definitely my favorite."
Major League Baseball instituted a new "paternity leave" rule this year for its players, allowing them three days to be away from the team in the event of the birth of a child. But with Buster on the disabled list for the rest of the year, he said he's glad he's able to be by Kristen's side every step of the way.
"She's handled it great, she really has. She's been a trooper," Buster said of Kristen during her pregnancy. "We went to the doctor the other day and they measured her stomach, and the doctor told her she's truly the size of a 10-and-a-half month pregnant woman. And while she's been great during the whole process, she's definitely ready to have them, as am I."
Buster said he and Kristen haven't put a number on how many kids they want to have, because after such a hectic, chaotic year, having two at once is more than enough right now.
And between long days of strenuous rehab and having a film crew stalk his every move, he's got enough on his plate for the time being.
The goal in the short term is returning to the field healthy and ready to play by spring training 2012, while the goal in the long term is to learn how to be the best possible dad he can be.
"I've just been talking a lot to the other guys on the team (who have kids) and getting some advice, but what I've found is that everyone has a different opinion about the best way to do things, and the reality is everyone is going to do things a different way," he said. "I think the approach we're taking is that we're just going to learn as we go and find out what works for us.
"It's been a tough year at times, but I have a feeling when I see (my newborn twins), all the other stuff will wash away."