Lee County native Buster Posey has looked as solid as ever this spring upon his return from a season-ending left leg injury that cut his sophomore campaign short. He batted .306, caught 49 innings and made plays every where from home plate to scoring from second on a single — a great sign for Posey and the Giants, who open their 2012 season today at Arizona. (The Associated Press)
PHONIEX — Sometimes, life throws you a curveball — isn’t that how the saying goes?
Well, Buster Posey knows that better than most.
And Thursday, on the eve of his highly-anticipated return to the field following what amounted to almost a lost season in 2011 due to a scary leg injury, there was only one thing on the mind of the starting catcher for the San Francisco Giants: He was still the starting catcher for the San Francisco Giants.
“I think I feel as good as I hoped for,” Posey told The Herald in a telephone interview Thursday evening in Phoenix, where the Giants will open the 2012 season today at 7 p.m. against the reigning NL West champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a nationally televised game on ESPN2. “(As far as what percentage I am near 100), it’s hard to put a number on it. I think if you ask any baseball player, regardless if they’ve had an injury or not, they’ll say they’re never 100 percent. I can say that right now (heading into the season opener), I’m really happy with the way I feel.”
The same wasn’t true almost a year ago on May 25 when Posey — the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year who led the Giants to the World Series title that season — was barrelled into at home plate by Florida Marlins baserunner Scott Cousins, who leveled Posey as he tried to score from third. The result was a break in his left fibula, torn tendons in his left ankle and the official end of Posey’s sophomore season.
Want To Watch?
WHO: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks.
WHAT: 2012 season opener for both teams, Buster Posey’s first regular-season game back behind the plate after missing the latter part of 2011 with a leg injury.
WHEN: 7 p.m. today.
WHERE: Phoenix, Ariz.
Since then, the the former Lee County baseball star who was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft out of Florida State, has undergone a trying process — the likes of which he’s never had to deal with during any stage of his entire career: Battling back from an injury.
And Thursday, Posey said he feels good about how he’s handled the adversity.
“Running was the biggest challenge, turning on the bases. At the beginning of spring, it wasn’t real good, but the longer spring went on, the more comfortable I got,” he said. “But about three weeks ago, I feel like I really turned a corner (in my rehab) and running the bases. I feel good. It was a real positive sign.”
And that’s music to the ears of the Giants, who will no doubt watch anxiously tonight as Posey, 25, squats behind the plate — in a regular-season game — for the first time since the injury.
Posey certainly has looked great early on as the Giants have touted his progress in returning to full strength as the biggest development to come out of spring training.
He batted .306, caught 49 innings and made plays every where from home plate to scoring from second.
“We thought he would be fine, and he hasn’t had any hiccups in his rehab,” manager Bruce Bochy told the Silicon Valley Mercury News earlier this week when asked about Posey’s progress. “Buster is coming through all the stuff we put him through. He’s not showing any ill effects of the injury. We think he really is back to where he was.”
Posey said he’s felt no discomfort while crouching behind the plate.
“Nope. It’s all good,” he told The Herald on Thursday.
Opening Day has always been the target date for Posey to return to the Giants’ lineup after he was officially shut down for the rest of 2011 a few days after the injury. Posey said he luckily hasn’t had too many anxious nights — lying in bed with countless scenarios running through his mind — thinking about how today will play out when he finally steps back on the field after more than 11 months away.
He just knows one thing for certain: He’s ready to play ball.
“I’m sure there will be some nerves, some excitement. That’s part of it. That’s what makes doing this fun. The excitement, the anticipation. I enjoy it. I enjoy every bit of it,” he said. “I’ve put in a lot of work to get back to this point. And I’m excited to get out there and compete again. And when I say I enjoy it, the enjoyment factor is pretty well increased with wins, so that’s my goal.
“To get through this, you have to take it day by day, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Posey is also prepared for day-to-day changes in his position for the Giants, who have said he may see some time at first base during the regular season to both help rest his ankle and keep a powerful right-handed bat in the lineup. During his award-winning rookie season — which was only 108 games — he batted .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI, while last season he was hitting .284 with four homers and 21 RBI through 45 games when he was injured.
Posey, who has strictly played catcher since his sophomore season at Florida State, said he’s OK with wherever management wants him to play.
“I played at first base my first 30 or so games when I got called up in 2010, so I’ve played out there a little bit. I don’t mind first,” he said. “But I want to play behind the plate as much as I can. It’s just going to be dependant on how my ankle responds to playing every day.”
Bochy said earlier this week, the plan is to have Posey catch as many games as possible — with a little first base mixed in.
“He’s going to do the lion’s share of the catching. I don’t know how many games. I think we can answer that a little better as we get into the season. He’ll be our starting catcher, and occasionally he’ll play first base to keep his bat in there,” Bochy told the newspaper. “We’ll keep an eye on him.”
Speaking of keeping an eye on things, Posey’s done some of that this offseason when it comes to two off-the-field items of note: the raising of his newborn twins, Lee and Addison, with wife Kristin, and the emergence of another rising star from his neck of the woods, American Idol finalist Phillip Phillips.
“Just watching how fast they change every day,” Posey said of being a new father to his twins, who are nearing eight months in age. “That’s been the coolest thing for me.”
Posey also thinks it’s pretty cool the way Leesburg has quickly risen from a little-known town in Southwest Georgia to the home of three well-known celebrities — including himself, award-winning country music artist Luke Bryan, and now Phillips — in such a short amount of time.
“Kristin and I have been watching (American Idol) just about every week. It’s been fun to follow with a guy from Leesburg on the show. He’s been great. I don’t know much about music, but it seems like he’s doing well,” Posey said before adding with a laugh: “I don’t know how to explain (what’s gone on in Leesburg) lately, but it’s cool. It’s been fun to watch Phillip, and it’s great to see what Luke has done as well.”
Posey has also done quite well himself in just two years, and he’ll begin to add to that growing legacy when he takes the field for his third full professional season today.
And it’s one he thinks has the potential to be terrific.
“Everybody has worked hard this offseason to get better and I think our team is in good shape,” he said. “Baseball is a crazy game. It’s such a long season, so much can happen, and I think that’s what’s so intriguing to people. I’m excited it’s here and that I’m back for it.”
As is his fan base in Southwest Georgia — which grew by two this offseason — and the entire Giants organization.