CLEVELAND (AP) — Grady Sizemore glanced out toward center field, where he roamed for nearly eight seasons and where he chased down drives in the gap and had more than a few run-ins with the padded wall.
On Monday, Sizemore’s long, painful return to the majors brought him to a familiar place.
“It still feels like home,” he said.
A three-time All-Star with Cleveland, Sizemore, whose hustling, reckless playing style almost ended his career, was at Progressive Field for the first time as a visitor.
Signed as a free agent by Boston in January, Sizemore is finally healthy after missing two full seasons following micro-fracture surgery on his right knee and other medical issues.
As he sat in Boston’s dugout, Sizemore briefly reflected on his first big league home.
“I started here and it’s still kind of a piece of me,” he said, “so it feels weird being back and being on the other side.”
It’s remarkable that Sizemore is back at all.
The 31-year-old underwent seven operations since 2009, including surgery on both knees, his back and elbow. He was counted out numerous times.
But Sizemore, one of only three players to record 20 homers and 20 steals three times in his first four seasons, defied the odds.
He’s a major leaguer again.
At one point, Sizemore was the perfect package of speed, power and durability. From 2005-08 he played in at least 157 games, and he never played one of them at half-speed.
Sizemore was the consummate “grinder,” running out every infield grounder and putting his body at risk with diving catches to take extra bases away from hitters.
His aggressiveness may have gotten him in trouble, but it was the only way he knew how to play.
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” he said when asked if his all-out style hurt him. “I don’t know if it’s so much how I played but it was kind of the perfect storm. I think that I tried to play through those injuries probably created more problems than anything. I can’t say it’s because of how I played.”
He’s healthy now, and Indians manager Terry Francona is among those who are happy to see him in uniform.
“Watching Grady from the other side, if you’re a fan of baseball, it’s hard not to be a fan of his,” Francona said. “He was such a force when he first came into the league. It’s hard not to respect how he played and he looked like he really enjoyed being a great young player.”
“It’s quite an accomplishment that he’s even playing again,” he said.
Sizemore was hitting .232 with two home runs and 14 RBIs going into Monday night’s series opener. He started in right field, saying he’d leave center field “to the younger guys.”
He wasn’t sure how he would be received by Indians fans, many of who never expected to see him again.
There was a period when Sizemore wasn’t sure himself.
“I’m surprised in how I’ve been able to hold up after being gone for so long and not have any major issues,” he said. “I’ve slowly progressed every day and not had any setbacks.”
“I got used to having a lot of setbacks the last couple years, so I’m just happy that I’ve been able to stay healthy and be on the field,” he said.