Brock Holt had one of the four Red Sox’ hits in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader.jessica rinaldi/globe staff
The longer the symptoms lasted, the harder it got for Brock Holt to understand and the more frustrating it got for him to explain — even to the people closest to him.
The dizziness wouldn’t go away. The shaky vision made it feel as if he was always looking at the world through a queasy-cam. Balance was spotty, like solid ground turned to sand with each step.
Holt went on the disabled list April 21 with a concussion and vertigo symptoms. He tried to work his way back, the lingering effects wouldn’t leave him alone. No matter how hard he worked, it was impossible to play.
“Baseball’s hard enough if you can see right and everything’s working like it’s supposed to,’’ he said. “So whenever things are a little off, your balance is a little off, you’re getting dizzy, your vision a little bouncy, it makes it impossible. So that was the hardest part for me.’’
As his rehab stretched into May then June then July with minor league assignments starting, stopping, and resetting, Holt started asking himself the inevitable questions.
“You start thinking,’’ he said. “I mean, when you’re down there trying to compete and to play, and you’re not able to do it, yeah, I think there were times where I wondered if I would ever get back to normal or if that was my new normal.’’
He was just 29 years old, two years removed from an All-Star season. His wife Lakyn had just given birth to their first child in December.
He got encouragement from his wife, family, and close friends. He spoke regularly with Pittsburgh-based concussion specialist Dr. Micky Collins.
“I would say I had to get talked off a ledge a few times,’’ Holt said. “But it was hard, man. It was emotionally and physically, obviously something that I would rather not have to go through.’’
It wasn’t until the past couple of weeks that things started to come together. Over a 10-game minor league assignment between Double A Portland and Triple A Pawtucket, Holt moved around the infield, got reps in the outfield, racked up consistent at-bats going 8 for 36 with a homer and six RBIs, and started to feel more and more like the versatile weapon that had been so important to the Sox lineup.
Collins suggested that it was time for him to take the next step. In need of depth going into a doubleheader with the Yankees on Sunday after a 16-inning battle on Saturday, Holt put the doubts behind him and made his return.
“It was hard,’’ said Holt, who went 1 for 2 in the Sox’ 3-0 loss to the Yankees in Game 1. “It was a long, long road. A frustrating thing that I had to go through, but I’ve been feeling better over the past couple of weeks. This time, rehabbing was a lot better than the last time — night and day. My at-bats have been getting better, I’ve been feeling better overall. So I’m happy to be here, hoping to contribute, and help out.’’
The concussion and vertigo symptoms cost Holt 74 games. In his absence, the Sox struggled to find a reliable option at third base. With him, they’ll have that and more.
“A fully-capable Brock Holt is a very good player,’’ said Sox manager John Farrell. “All-Star not too long ago, the versatility speaks for itself.’’
While his initial rehab attempts stalled, Farrell said there were more than enough positive signs from his most recent stint.
“Based on the number of games played, the at-bats, how he controlled the at-bats, the way he went about his defensive work, how he responded to the stress of a game the following day and was able to repeat that — all we have to go by is the performance and the consistency of it — so he passed all those,’’ Farrell said. “And honestly on his part, he felt like after last Sunday he was chomping at the bit and doing what he could to get back active.’’
What ultimately helped in reassuring Holt was talking to people who had been in his position.
When the Sox were in Houston, he caught up with former teammate David Ross, who decided to leave the game after a long history of concussions throughout his career. He spoke with Brian Roberts, a two time All-Star for the Orioles who had also worked with Collins after suffering concussions in 2010 and 2011. He also reached out to NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr., who missed half of the 2016 season after a wreck left him with a concussion last June. Earnhardt Jr. announced earlier this year that he would retire after the 2017 season, but he wanted to leave racing on his own terms.
They all could relate to Holt, encourage him, and remind him that his life would return to normal.
“It was nice talking to those guys, knowing they’d gotten better,’’ Holt said. “That was big for me being able to talk to guys who had been through it, because you can talk to your training staff, your teammates, and my family even and you can explain how you feel, but no one really knows. So it was nice to talk to those guys who had been through it and know exactly what I was talking about. I didn’t really have to explain it. I think that helped me out a lot, too, knowing those guys went through it and are better. They did the rehab I did and got better from it, and they’re living normal lives now.’’
Holt made the drive to Fenway from Syracuse early Sunday. He knew he had a long day ahead of him, but it was one he’d been waiting for since April.
“If I wasn’t ready, I probably wouldn’t be here,’’ Holt said. “It’s been a long journey, but I’m happy to be back.’’