After his season-ending injury in May during a collision at home plate in a game between the Giants and Marlins, Lee County native Buster Posey broke his left fibula and tore three tendons in his ankle. Posey immediately went to the DL and onto crutches, then to a walking boot as he continued to support the team and attend games. Posey reached the next stage of his rehab recently, shedding the boot for regular tennis shoes with hopes of soon returning to some type of on-the-field practice.

After his season-ending injury in May during a collision at home plate in a game between the Giants and Marlins, Lee County native Buster Posey broke his left fibula and tore three tendons in his ankle. Posey immediately went to the DL and onto crutches, then to a walking boot as he continued to support the team and attend games. Posey reached the next stage of his rehab recently, shedding the boot for regular tennis shoes with hopes of soon returning to some type of on-the-field practice.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Buster Posey points to a pair of regular sneakers at the foot of his locker. Those shoes signify serious progress for San Francisco's injured star.

The Lee County native and reigning National League Rookie of the Year catcher no longer needs a scooter, crutch or walking boot to make his way around AT&T Park. He considers himself on target to return from a devastating leg injury by the start of spring training next year.

"I'm walking around in a tennis shoe, feeling good. I think we're right on track," Posey said this weekend during the middle of the Giants' crucial National League West series with the Arizona Diamondbacks. "Keep going. Be ready to go hopefully next spring."

Posey is gaining strength in his leg every day and is set to begin catching bullpens and hitting next month at instructional league in Arizona.

He said he will then return to Arizona in a couple of weeks to continue his extensive rehab.

"It's increasing every workout, so it's just the progression of it. More and more all the time," Posey said of the intensity of working out his legs. "It's nice to have some sore muscles in my legs again."

The new father of nearly 3-week-old twins went down for the season after tearing three ligaments in his left ankle and fracturing a bone in his lower leg in a frightening home-plate collision with Florida's Scott Cousins on May 25.

"Buster's in a good frame of mind," manager Bruce Bochy said before the opener of a key weekend series with the NL West-leading Diamondbacks. "He's enjoying walking around with no crutch and being able to do some rehab stuff. Hopefully in a month he will catch some bullpens in instructional ball."

For now, Posey is plenty busy with baby duty while he works to get himself back in baseball form.

so from Lee County, welcomed daughter Addison and son Lee on Aug. 14. Posey said that being a sleep-deprived, first-time dad with constant responsibilities at home has helped him cope with not being on the field for the struggling Giants.

Posey is arguably this team's best player -- and he had so looked forward to his first full season in the big leagues batting cleanup for the reigning World Series champions.

Losing him was a huge blow for San Francisco's psyche -- and Posey's.

"I don't think there's any question about it. Looking forward to the birth of my children and then them being here has definitely helped with the process of not being able to play," Posey said. "Of course it puts everything in perspective, too. Just trying to catch up on sleep now. We had a long night last night."

The Giants miss Posey's presence behind the plate and in the middle of the batting order.

He wasn't even called up from Triple-A Fresno until late May last year, then batted .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in 108 games while playing catcher and some first base.

Posey hit eight of his homers after Sept. 1 and helped the Giants capture their first NL West crown since 2003.

This is the player San Francisco gave $6.2 million when he signed in August 2008, the richest deal ever for a Giants amateur.

Posey was the fifth overall draft pick that year out of Florida State and San Francisco's highest selection since Jason Grilli went fourth in 1997. The last time the Giants drafted a position player who became an All-Star for them was in 1986, when they picked Matt Williams third overall.

The Giants realized all along Posey had star potential -- All-Star, they hope -- after the '08 Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year led the NCAA in batting average (.472), on-base percentage (.572) and slugging percentage (.908) in his final college season. He also led Florida State with six saves and did not give up an earned run in eight appearances.

Posey even played all nine defensive positions in one game and hit a grand slam.

Now, everybody will be curious to see if he can return to the dominant player he was before that terrible day in May. For now, the Giants are encouraged -- though rehabs often have their setbacks.

"Nobody's trying to get too far ahead," said Bobby Evans, Giants vice president of baseball operations. "It's a significant injury and only time will tell how it will feel in the heat of battle."