Limited by injury, Cameron’s aching to contribute on field
Mike Cameron suffered one of the most horrific injuries in recent baseball history in 2005 when he collided with Mets teammate Carlos Beltran while chasing a ball in the outfield.
Trainers rolled Cameron on his side to keep him from drowning in his own blood. He suffered numerous facial fractures and nearly lost sight in one eye. Cameron still has several metal plates beneath his cheeks, a daily reminder of his athletic mortality.
But the injury he suffered in spring training this year was more insidious. There was no collision or dramatic leap against an unforgiving wall, just a dull ache at his waistline that got a little worse each day.
Doctors called it a lower abdominal tear, commonly known as a sports hernia. It doesn’t sound like much, but for a baseball player it is impossible to swing a bat, throw a ball, or run without firing those muscles.
“The way it was explained to me, a normal person would have surgery and be on the couch for a while,’’ said teammate Darnell McDonald, who has become close with Cameron. “I don’t know how he’s playing. There are some days you see him and you can tell it hurts.’’
Cameron, unable to walk normally, went on the disabled list in April. He returned 35 days later, but has played in only 14 of 26 games since. The Red Sox, who start a six-game road trip tonight in Denver, are a game out of first place despite using a makeshift outfield nearly every night.
Players like McDonald, Bill Hall, and Daniel Nava have played more than anyone could have possibly imagined when the season started.
“It’s been a blessing in disguise because everyone has been doing very well and I have no extra pressure on myself,’’ Cameron said.
But the words, while positive, are said in an unconvincing tone. Cameron is embarrassed by having driven in only two runs and not having a home run in 98 at-bats going back to last season.
“Would it be too much to ask to hit a home run? Just one?’’ he asked, before waving his hands in his front of face. “Don’t even get me started. I can’t even think about it. I’m not me.’’
That the Red Sox have emerged as one of the best teams in baseball makes it easier to go through the deliberate process of healing.
“That always helps,’’ Cameron said. “But for me, there’s frustration over certain things like hitting a ball off the wall and not being able to fly around first headfirst and know I have a chance to make it to second. Now I have to say, ‘OK, that’s not it.’ I can’t push that.’’
Manager Terry Francona met with Cameron Saturday to discuss the situation. The two have known each other since 1991 when Francona was Cameron’s hitting coach in the rookie level Gulf Coast League.
Francona’s message to Cameron was to take pride in what he is able to do.
“He’s so conscientious. He’s such a pro,’’ Francona said. “I don’t want him to look back three years from now and go, ‘Oh, man, just because I couldn’t play every day I made myself miserable. Or I was too hard on myself.’
“Just because physically he can’t quite do everything he wants to, which he acknowledges, that doesn’t mean he’s not doing a heck of a job. I don’t want him to get lost in the fact of some of the things that he can’t do right now that are frustrating him. He’s doing a heck of a job just being available . . . He’s done a terrific job. We’re actually really proud of him.’’
But the 37-year-old Cameron, who signed a two-year deal in January, knows that Adrian Beltre leads the team with 48 RBIs and deserves to be an All-Star. Marco Scutaro has given the Red Sox reliability at shortstop for the first time in years. John Lackey hasn’t missed a start and has won eight games. Cameron is the only newcomer who has not delivered.
“The motivation has been there from the beginning. I understood the commitment when I arrived here a while back,’’ he said. “For me, it was a slight bit of disappointment when I got hurt because I didn’t understand what was going on. Now that I have a better understanding of what I’m going through, it’s easier to process. It’s easier for me to understand what role I have to take on a day-to-day basis. I look no further than tomorrow.’’
Bench coach DeMarlo Hale said Cameron has been uncommonly willing to help players like McDonald and Nava learn the intricacies of certain parks. His leadership, Hale said, has been an underreported aspect of this season.
“His knowledge, his attitude, and his desire to keep playing have registered in this locker room,’’ Hale said. “There’s a lot of respect for him. He came as advertised.’’
The belief of the medical staff is that limiting Cameron’s playing time now will lead to him playing more often in the second half of the season. The inevitable surgery can be delayed, perhaps long enough for Cameron to contribute meaningfully to a World Series team.
“I’m always getting better,’’ Cameron said. “My body will only accept certain things, but I’m able to do more things, and that’s always a positive sign. I’m recovering a lot better. The recovery is not as extended as it was. Those are signs that my body is starting to get a lot better.’’
Then, Cameron will show Boston what he is capable of.
“I love the energy here, I love the expectations,’’ Cameron said. “That’s why I came here. I just want to get better and do my part. I think I will.’’