It's about an hour before first pitch, and R.J. Seidel leans his 6-foot-5 frame against a large trunk inside the indoor batting cage at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute.
That he's actually there, decked out in his Wisconsin Timber Rattlers black warm-up top and talking about taking the bump in today's Midwest League series finale against the Dayton Dragons is as unlikely as it is remarkable.
"With the advancement of surgery, the rehab — nowadays, you can come back a lot quicker than you used to," the right-hander said. "They kept telling me I was ahead of schedule the whole time. I just kept working hard and really wanted to get some innings in this year."
It's December, two days after Christmas, and Seidel is jogging along a trail somewhere in La Crosse when his right leg slips on a patch of ice, causing him to land awkwardly on his left leg.
He crumples to the ground but manages to hobble back to his car and call his father. A trip to the hospital doesn't seem to indicate any substantial damage, but an MRI reveals a nightmare: a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Surgery follows in late January. Then comes a lingering bout with sickness because of the medication, which results in a 15-pound weight loss and leaves him weakened at 185 pounds. And then comes an arduous rehab program that taxes the mind and body but leaves nary a dent on his soul.
"I couldn't even walk a week after surgery, and usually, you're supposed to," said the 21-year-old Seidel, who called some of his early rehab work, like being forced to fully extend his reconstructed knee, the worst pain he has ever experienced.
"It was grueling," he added. "I was sweating beads, dripping. To think I'm here right now and ready to pitch in a game …"
The rest of the posts will be up this afternoon.