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The Injury Bug

By Donald G. Evans

There’s no precise number of pulled whatnot, broken whatever, and tweaked et cetera that constitutes an “injury bug,” but generally you know when the epidemic is upon you. It’s upon us. You know the injury bug has hit not just because of volume, but grouping and quality. The Cubs were victims of significant, disabled-list-type injuries on June 11, June 17, June 18, and June 26; additional minor injuries were incurred on June 20, June 26 and June 28. We lost our ace pitcher, our best hitter, a relief pitcher coming off a team record scoreless streak, and our best defensive outfielder. Banged up were our most consistent hitter, our best on-base guy, and our hottest hitter.

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Bandaged Man by Webweaver's Free Clipart
Here’s how else you know the injury bug has arrived: your best run producer takes a leave of absence for “family matters.” Leaves of absence are generally associated with professors, lawyers, perhaps business executives, unless, as now, the injury bug is making its rounds; then ball players like Aramis Ramirez need one. Technically not an “injury,” I know, but it amounts to the same thing: a player out of action.

Our Cubbies have lost a lot of guys--a lot of good guys--in some cases, for a long time.

This is bad luck. All teams have injured players, of course, but not like this. This is, well, it’s some sort of karma or curse only possible if the universe is against your team winning the World Series, possibly ever again.

• Soriano: “minimally displaced fracture of the left fourth metacarpal,” six weeks.

• Reed Johnson: “back spasms,” 15-day DL.

• Carlos Zambrano: “strained shoulder,” 15-day DL.

• Jim Edmonds: “plantar fascitis in his left foot,” hobbled.

• Kosuke Fukudome: “tightness in left calf,” day-to-day.

• Scott Eyre: “left groin strain,” 15-day DL.

• Ryan Theriot: “bruised hand,” day-to-day.

• Aramis Ramirez: “family situation,” three games.

Causes for the injuries are mostly part of the daily life of a baseball player—warming up, running out a bunt, playing on artificial turf. In Reed Johnson’s case, according to the Cubs trainer, riding the bus from Albany to Cooperstown and back for the Hall of Fame game might have had something to do with it. Scott Eyre was pitching, which understandably could lead to an arm problem—but this is his groin, for God’s Sake. Aramis Ramirez—who knows? A dark, disguised voice beckoning him to the Dominican Republic, toward Standing Room Only cock fights and away from the hot corner at AT&T Park?

It’s a bug, I tell you. Picture Ryan Theriot waking up in his hotel room, sweaty, yelling, “My hand! My fucking hand!” Or Carlos Zambrano looking into the crowd for sniper types after the double play. Jim Edmonds suspiciously eyeing a divot in the plastic grass as his ankle swells like a balloon. Scott Eyre staring down his pinstriped pants for the culprit.

We’re wounded; “getting pretty thin,” according to Skipper Lou Piniella. But this MASH unit of limping, yelping, wincing manhood will all be back, like the cavalry, to save Our Cubbies--in a very short time, to hear them tell it. Soriano vows to play in the All-Star Game. Zambrano didn’t even want to leave the game after his injury was discovered. Theriot insists his hand, “It’s fine!” With Fukudome, we’re playing it safe. Ramirez will presumably take care of whatever needs to be taken care of, and return, refreshed.

But Cubs fans have a right to be skeptical about optimistic prognoses. For some reason, players do not like to admit being hurt—perhaps it’s the machoistic nature of the business, or reluctance to let down teammates or just a general warrior mentality. You more often hear, “I’ll be back soon” than, “This hurts so much I can’t even imagine making myself an omelet, much less swinging a bat.”

Cubs’ management, too, has a reputation for being coy about injuries. General Manager Jim Hendry and then-manager Dusty Baker told us repeatedly, for several years, that Mark Prior’s arm problems were essentially nothing and they were “being cautious,” but the last Prior citing was at a Starbuck’s somewhere on the West Coast, where he gingerly negotiated a one-armed sip of latte. The same song played for Wade Miller, Kerry Wood, Derrek Lee and a bunch of other more-or-less crippled guys we were assured were just fine.

Johnson played in only 79 games last year because of a herniated disc, making this injury greater cause for concern. Edmonds had banged-up legs before he got here, and is old. Soriano’s been on and off the DL all season.

You think of “our guys” as Soriano, Ramirez, Zambrano, Fukudome and the like, but when they disappear to the black hole of trainer’s tables, extended spring training sessions in Arizona, towel drills, and minor league rehab assignments, “our guys” are really Mike Fontenot, Ronny Cedeno, Jose Ascanio, Mike Wuertz, Sean Gallagher, Sean Marshall, and maybe a few other Seans we don’t know about.

I like this. I’ve always had a soft spot for the ragamuffin players without the requisite speed, strength, or height, born into circumstances more like my own than that of, say, Barry Bonds. My favorite players, at one time or another, have been Paul Popovich, Augie Ojeda, Bob Dernier, and Jose Cardenal. Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot are way up on my list now. I haven’t given up on Matt Murton.

If I had practiced harder, had the right guidance, and had the scouts done their jobs better, it could be me in the place of any one of those small stature players.

Plus, there’s something exciting about a guy getting his shot. These are not necessarily the Kerry Woods and Joe Carters and Rafael Palmeiros who’ve been groomed to be big league stars and will be given, over and over, if necessary, the chance to play their ways into their predestined starring roles.

No, these are guys good enough to hang around long enough to get their big chance, and it might be just this once. Or veterans wasting away in the dugout, looking for that spotlight that’s never managed to quite locate them, or who are past their prime hoping to steal another moment or two of glory.

Before the injury bug hit, the Cubs had, essentially, four starting outfielders, with left-handed hitting Johnson and right-handed hitting Edmonds platooning in center field. At the height of the bug, we were down to none. If you had some combination of an outfielder’s mitt and a Cubs uniform, you were in.

We found out quickly that Eric Patterson, a converted second baseman, could not really play left field. The Orioles treated him like a Little Leaguer—tagging up from first to second, aggressively taking extra bases, and generally daring the substitute player to throw the ball quickly and accurately toward the next base, a challenge to which he was decidedly not equal. A ball went under his mitt and he almost fell chasing after it.

Patterson might just as well start checking into an apartment share situation with his brother as oiling his glove; he’s had his big chance. But that’s okay. We’ve got Felix Pie, Sam Fuld and Micah Hoffpauir, waiting for the call.

Don’t forget Henry Blanco. Jon Lieber and Neal Cotts. Kevin Hart might just be ready to get over that hump; Rocky Cherry and Jose Ceda, too. Jeff Samardzija, Tyler Colvin and Scott Moore want a chance.

Sound the alarm at the end of the bench, in the hollows of the bullpen, in Iowa, Tennessee, and Peoria. Our guys are our guys, even if they’re not our guys. And as long as we’ve waited almost 100 years anyway, won’t it be sweeter to let the whole extended family in on this thing?

Let’s just hope Josh Vitters doesn’t stub a toe.

Donald G. Evans, author of Wrigleyville sports gambling novel Good Money After Bad, is the Lovable Losers emcee. His stories have appeared in StoryQuarterly, Pinyon Review, The Journal and Narrative Magazine, among others, and he will soon have a story appearing in the Xavier Review.

Posted on Monday, June 30, 2008 at 10:41PM by Registered CommenterLovable Losers Literary Revue in , | Comments8 Comments

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