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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Nixon feels the pain -- of not playing

The newly formed Red Sox Kid Nation was barely an hour old when the young brethren of baseball fans began flexing their muscles. As part of the celebration of the formation of the first kids' fan club in the team's history, a group of select children, already officially indoctrinated as the next generation of Fenway Faithful, were told Boston outfielder Trot Nixon would be joining them via satellite from Florida to answer their questions.

This opportunity was met with great anticipation by the kids, who had correctly identified Nixon's uniform as No. 7.

Nixon, who had agreed to become the official spokesman of Red Sox Kids Nation, beamed as the children greeted him in their sweet, high-pitched, admiring voices. He braced himself for the traditional questions from a collection of 10-year-olds, such as, "What's your favorite color?" or "Which baseball player do you like best?" or "Do you have a dog?"

Ah, but it would have been a mistake to underestimate this Kid Nation. They did not fall off the back of a Milwaukee Brewers turnip truck. They are, after all, the offspring of true Red Sox diehards.

"When will you get back?" a little girl with blond curls and a Sox cap asked earnestly.

"Did you know that Kevin Millar has taken your place?" queried young Patrick, who definitely has a future in the newspaper business.

"Is that what he's telling you, kids?" shot back Nixon, who appeared to be smiling (or was that wincing?).

Everyone had a good laugh, because we all know as soon as Nixon's ailing back rights itself, he'll regain his customary position in right field for the balance of the season, while Millar will retreat to first base. In the meantime, Nixon remains in Miami, rehabilitating a freak injury that has left him apart from his team and family, in a town that apparently doesn't have NESN.

"I haven't followed the team that much," Nixon admitted. "I've only found one place to go that [carries the games]. I see the highlights. That's about it."

He has been able to chart the fickle New England weather on cable, and from his vantage point, it's been nothing but good news. For the second consecutive day, the Red Sox were victims of a rainout against Baltimore. That means two more games Nixon won't have to miss. Nixon did some light baseball work yesterday at the University of Miami's Mark Light Field. His plan was to take today off, then resume light baseball drills tomorrow.

"I feel really well," Nixon insisted yesterday. "I'm getting stronger day in and day out. I've shed a few pounds down here. I want to be with the team as soon as I can, but I don't want to push it, and escalate things. The biggest test will be when I start playing baseball again."

Nixon dutifully reported that he barely feels any pain anymore; in fact, he upgraded his condition to "a nag."

"On a [pain] scale of 0 to 10, I'd say it's a 1 1/2," he said.

If his rehab continues as hoped, Nixon said he could envision joining the club by the end of April or the first week in May. He understands he has missed all of spring training, and it might be weeks before his timing and conditioning enable him to make a significant contribution. He has resisted trying to return too quickly, and it has helped that the temptations of Fenway, his teammates, even his locker, which holds his uniform, hat, and his Kevin Millar baseball card, is out of sight and out of reach.

"The main thing is you don't want this to happen in July or August," said Millar. "We're battling without him. It's cold, the weather is bad, he's really not missing anything but a bunch of rainouts.

"They knew what they were doing, keeping him in Miami. You wonder if he's here, then maybe he's sneaking away to the cages. The best thing was him getting out of here and getting healthy."

Amid the drudgery of rehab, and the loneliness that settles in when you are in a strange place for a prolonged period, Nixon has given thought to how this could have been avoided. He drove to Fort Myers, Fla., and stopped after around 400 miles to fill his car with gas. When he extricated his 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound frame from the vehicle and straightened up, he was jolted by an intense and shocking pain he had never experienced.

"I had some real difficult pain shooting down my leg," said Nixon. "The last couple of weeks before spring training I always take it a lot easier on the weights and stuff, so I didn't know where it was coming from."

Asked in hindsight if he would have handled his ailment any differently, Nixon answered, "I probably would have liked to have come down to have this therapy the first part of spring training, but who would have told you I would have needed it? We can talk about what we could have done all day long, but it doesn't do any good.

"I don't think it is a bad problem at all. It's just something I need to get ahold of and deal with."

Manager Terry Francona confessed he hadn't been briefed on Nixon's latest rehabilitation routine, and was resisting putting any timetable on his return.

"I'll be glad when he's back," Francona said. "If I start saying I want him back by May 1, as much as I miss him, I don't want him to think he has to make that date. We want him healthy."

Count Francona among those who believe isolating Nixon from the day-to-day activities of the baseball team was a wise move.

"It's probably good for him to get away from baseball grabbing at him," the manager said.

You can understand that Nixon longs for that pull. He wishes he was fighting traffic on the Central Artery and getting rained on like his teammates. "I miss them," he said. "I miss being around them. I miss the fans. It's different being down here."

The last of the Kids Nation clamored for a question. He asked Trot Nixon, "What's it like to be a ballplayer?"

The outfielder paused, truly stumped. It hasn't been that long since he's been one, but for the Kids Nation spokesman, it feels like forever.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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