TAMPA, Fla. — It doesn’t take much to understand why Giancarlo Stanton’s mood was so dour as he roamed the home clubhouse at Steinbrenner Field early Friday. Really, all you need to do is look at him: He seems cast out of iron, a testament to a year-long commitment to fitness and exercise.
On a spring morning two years ago, asked about how important it was for him to tend to his body daily, he said, “It wouldn’t make sense to me if that wasn’t as much a priority to a baseball player as his hitting, or his commitment fundamentals. I take pride in being an athlete — not just ‘He’s a good athlete for a baseball player.’ This is how I make my living. This is important to me.”
It was easy to recall those words as Stanton shook his head sadly and tried to explain just how exasperating it was to him to have his body betray him one more time.
“I mean, it makes it seem that I don’t take care of myself,” Stanton said, his voice barely above a whisper, “which makes it that much more frustrating.”
Tuesday afternoon Stanton was doing a basic outfield drill when he tried “a little re-direction” and suddenly felt something all wrong happening in his right calf — nothing excruciating, but noticeable. A couple of years ago, he might’ve even blown it off.
But a couple of years ago, he hadn’t yet started to feel like a black storm cloud was stalking him, hovering over him, waiting to deliver another ounce of annoyance in his tenure as a Yankee.
A couple of years ago, he hadn’t yet been plagued by a tight hamstring, as he was in August 2018, which hampered him the rest of the season. A couple of years ago he hadn’t yet felt a mysterious ache in his arm, as he did in April 2019, which would later be diagnosed as a biceps strain and was even later revealed to be a complete tear.
A couple of years ago, he hadn’t yet been flattened by the news, just as he was coming back from the biceps tear, that his left shoulder was barking and would require a cortisone shot, or that his left calf would be hit by a strain. Later he would add a sprained knee to the 2019 buffet after an awkward slide into third base during a brief late-summer cameo and then, in the ALCS, a quad injury after hitting a home run in Game 1.
So when he felt the calf give on Tuesday, he admitted: “No, I wasn’t surprised.”
He is an elite athlete still, so when he was asked if he felt snake-bitten, he wouldn’t agree to that — “I can’t stop and feel sorry for myself,” he said — and there won’t exactly be a long line of mourners lamenting his bad luck. Not when he’s still on the Yankees’ books for another $244 million between now and 2027.
Still, there comes a point where even natural resentments caused by fat paychecks don’t factor into the equation. The fact is that Stanton should be in the middle of his prime production years. He is still only three years removed from hitting 59 homers for the Marlins. It is easy to forget that a year later, he did manage to play 158 games for the Yankees, hitting 38 homers, driving in 100 runs, scoring 102.
He is 30 years old. He should be preparing for an epic season. But here he was again Friday morning, shuffling uneasily around the Yankees clubhouse, wondering what he ever did to his meticulously crafted body to have it rebel against him with such frequency, and with so many irritating tweaks and troubles.
Look, nobody wants to blow out a knee or tear a shoulder or suffer the kind of horrific injury Stanton did in 2014, when his face was shattered by a Mike Fiers fastball. But those are easier to explain away than a sprain here, a strain there, a pile of nicks and cuts and a whole lot of bad luck that kept him off the field for 144 games last year and puts his availability for Opening Day at the end of next month in question.
“There’s no word for what I feel, really,” Stanton said. “I need to get back to where I need to be. It all depends on this week and next week and going forward.”
He shook his head.
“That’s all I got,” he said, wishing he — or anyone — could figure out a way for this to stop happening to him.
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