Mets' Ike Davis working the comeback trail
In moments of despair last summer, Mets first baseman Ike Davis admits, he had the thought no baseball player in his mid-20s should ever have:
Is my career over?
When he was sitting alone in a hotel room in Port St. Lucie, Fla., with a boot on his damaged left ankle, or during a seemingly endless series of MRIs. When he was told he'd be better in two weeks and instead got worse, or when he tried to run and couldn't go side to side or backward without pain. When he was a day or two away from a scheduled surgery that would probably, maybe, hopefully help solve the problem . . . but no one was guaranteeing it would.
That's when he thought it.
"I was nervous," Davis, finally healed and itching for spring training next month, said last week. "I had never really thought about anything but baseball and obviously, I thought about some stuff like, 'What would I do if I'm not playing?' There were points where if this never healed, with how much pain I was in, I would never have been able to play again."
Happily for Davis and the good-news-starved Mets, ankle apocalypse didn't arrive.
Sure, he missed every game of his sophomore season after May 10, when what seemed a benign collision with David Wright while chasing a pop-up in front of the pitcher's mound at Coors Field caused what only months later was fully diagnosed as a sprain and bone bruise with cartilage damage in the ankle joint.
But the microfracture surgery that not only would have ended last season but delayed this one was avoided.
Davis, who hit .302 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs in 36 games before the injury, was able to resume working out in July under the auspices of Brett Fischer, owner of Fischer Sports Physical Therapy and Conditioning and the physical therapist for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.
The real rehab work couldn't start until the correct diagnosis came in. First, the Mets called it a calf strain. Then the ankle sprain and bone bruise surfaced. Then, finally, the cartilage damage was detected.
What's up, docs?
It was another embarrassing series of medical events for the Mets. From Ryan Church's concussions to Jose Reyes' hamstrings to Carlos Beltran's knee to Johan Santana's shoulder, the Mets seem to always be defending their medical staff.
But Davis said he did not blame the medical staff, even though they initially had him put the ankle in a boot, which did not help and may have restricted circulation to the area.
"I wasn't really angry because I didn't know what was going on," Davis said. "I think that MRIs sometimes are misleading -- now that I've had 55 of them, I've learned a little bit about MRIs. It's so person-to-person how your bone reacts or how you heal. One guy might heal in two weeks. I took five, six months.
"What I've learned from talking to doctors is they didn't have an idea when it would heal. It wasn't like a clear-cut 'He broke his bone.' It was like, 'We'll see.' Because that's all they could really do."
Still, it was a slow process. Painfully slow.
"Everyone thought it would heal faster than it did," Davis said. "They kept telling me, 'Two weeks, you'll be good.' Or like, 'Three weeks.' Then after three weeks, it actually hurt worse now than it did three weeks ago.
"I knew that it would heal eventually and if I had to get surgery to have a chance to play, I would have to do surgery. I think we made the right decisions, everybody, and the doctors were great at the end and not wanting me to do the surgery, too."
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said he had no issues with how Davis' injury was treated.
"Our medical people kept us informed every step of the way,'' Alderson said. "The treatment was correct and the recovery was just longer than we expected. We look for Ike to have an outstanding 2012."
Working his way back
Enter Fischer, a one-time intern with the Jets in the 1980s. He has known Davis, 24, since the first baseman was a teenager in nearby Scottsdale and trained at Fischer's, as do many big-leaguers and NFL players.
"When he first got here, he was in Port St. Lucie, he was in New York, he's flying back, he was frustrated," Fischer said. "He was like, 'Fish, I honestly thought it was like a typical ankle sprain you do playing basketball. I'm thinking three or four days. And here I am, I'm back in Arizona.' "
Fischer went to work figuring out what Davis could and couldn't do. The goal: to avoid surgery.
Davis could run, he could work on a Zuni Unloader (basically a treadmill with a harness), but he couldn't change direction or backpedal without pain.
By August, when Davis was straining to get back before the end of the Mets' season, surgery still was a possibility. But the ankle was able to bear more weight and the pain had lessened to a dull ache. Davis still had difficulty with "lateral cutting" -- which you need to round bases and play defense and do other things baseball players need to do.
Finally, in mid-September, surgery was ruled out. It was too late for Davis to play in 2011, so Fischer told him to take some time off and come back around Nov. 1 to get ready for 2012.
"We're doing a lot more reaction drills than we have in the past, a lot more ankle drills than we have in the past," Fischer said, "just because we have to make sure it's super-strong going into the season."
Davis has progressed to the point where he can pull a 200-pound sled weight with his ankle. Working out with fellow major-leaguers who populate Fischer's, such as Josh Thole, Justin Morneau and Stephen Drew, is more fun than work. And now he can take a day off every now and then to go quail hunting in Colorado.
'He's ready to go'
Is Davis' ankle 100 percent? He fears it may never be. But he can play again. Fischer put it this way: "He's a healed player who had an ankle sprain. He may need a tape job on the ankle. He hasn't played baseball since May. He's ready to go. He's ready to go."
Said Davis: "I don't know what's going to happen if I roll it again. I hope that never happens. It's eventually going to happen. I hope it doesn't do the exact same thing."
Fischer doesn't really know what would happen, either. But he does have one piece of advice for Davis.
"When there's a pop fly in front of the mound," he said, "somebody's got to call it."