The thought went rushing through his mind the moment that familiar, searing pain shot through his knee.
Not another long year of anguish.
Not another season wondering if not only a season was lost, but his whole career.
“Definitely,” Scott Sizemore said. “Early on, when you’re first getting over the surgery, basically you’re so far away from any kind of baseball things. It’s tough to think of yourself doing it at the highest level.”
It was hard for anyone to watch.
During the second game of the 2013 season, Sizemore suffered a torn ACL in his right knee for the second time in two seasons. The year before, he tore it for the first time on the first day that position players reported to spring training.
He had spent more than 10 months after that initial surgery pushing the knee to full recovery so he could play his way back into the big leagues.
All that work for nothing?
At least Sizemore knew what was in store for him the second time around.
“It’s been fairly good with my rehab, I pushed it harder in the program,” Sizemore said. “It paid some dividends.”
It got him back on the baseball field.
Sizemore will open this season in the infield of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, after drawing some interest in New York Yankees major league camp this spring. He hit .316 in 11 games during spring training, with a double, two RBI and four runs scored, and was in the running to win a big league roster spot until the camp’s final days.
“It was a very small sample size,” Sizemore said, “but I was definitely happy with the way I’m seeing the ball out of the pitchers’ hands.”
He was just starting to see himself as an everyday major league player when his knee first gave way.
After hitting .224 in 48 games with three homers and 14 RBI for the Detroit Tigers in 2010, Sizemore opened the 2011 season as the Tigers starting second baseman. He was traded to the Oakland A’s three weeks into that year, and batted .249 with 11 home runs in 93 games through the rest of the season.
He’s hardly had a chance to play again, spending just two games on a major league field over the past two years thanks to a knee that kept tearing.
“You start to lack confidence,” Sizemore said.
Suddenly, though, there is hope.
During this past offseason, he was encouraged by a number of major league teams asking about him.
“There was quite a bit of interest,” Sizemore, 29, said, “which was a pleasant surprise.”
With Sizemore’s ability to play both third base and second, the Yankees losing Robinson Cano through free agency and Alex Rodriguez to a year-long suspension, he figured he could help in New York.
“I just felt like the opportunity was there,” Sizemore said, “helping the big league team, and that would be a good fit for me.”
The feeling was mutual.
“We certainly liked him as a player,” says Yankees vice-president of baseball operations Mark Newman, who runs the team’s minor-league system. “We think he brings a lot to the table. He’s a good player with defensive flexibility. We think he can help us not only in Scranton, we think he can help us in New York.”
First, though, the Yankees would like Sizemore to take a test run.
He will open the season in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre playing third base, maybe sometimes at second, to see if his twice-repaired knee will withstand the daily rigors of the game.
“He hasn’t played in awhile,” Newman said. “We want him to get some at-bats and see where he’s at.”
Sizemore understands the situation.
“You’re always disappointed when you come down from big league camp. (But) it was definitely not a surprise,” said Sizemore, who has clauses in his contract that kick in May 1 and Aug. 1 that would allow him to leave the organization if another major league team shows interest and the Yankees don’t promote him by those dates. “I know, missing as much time as I have, I have to show I’m healthy.”
And less than a full year through his second recovery, Sizemore admits he may not be as good as new just yet.
“It feels pretty good,” Sizemore said of his knee. “I want to continue to build my strength. I felt like I was running real well. I don’t know if it’s like it was pre-surgery or not. But I’m not thinking about my knee too much. It’s not holding me back. I don’t feel limited.”
He wants to prove it during the coming weeks with the RailRiders, where minor progress for Sizemore could very well turn into a major step on his road back to the big leagues.
“Obviously the standard numbers,” Sizemore said he’s looking for, “hit .300, try not to make any errors, that’s always good. More importantly, I want to stay healthy. As long as I’m getting my timing down, I can build on that.”