"It was kind of funny," Malek said. "I feel like I'm starting over."
Malek played two games with the Gulf Coast Mets and three games with the Cyclones and, as an injury-flagged member of those team, it was easy for Malek to recall his 2002 season, when Tommy John ligament replacement surgery was on his mind.
Then, joining St. Lucie for six games, Malek flew into Brevard County Airport, the same place he arrived when a mid-2003 promotion from Class-A Capital City came in.
Finally, joining his Binghamton teammates on July 17, Malek checked his bags at Trenton's Waterfront Park, one of his first road trips with the B-Mets in 2004.
Malek went 10-for-44 (.227) in the rehab games, including a particularly baffling 0-for-11 stint at Brooklyn. But most importantly, he felt little discomfort in his wrist, even contributing a two-hit performance at Trenton on July 18.
"I wish I could have done a little bit better to help those [lower level] guys out, but I was just trying to get my timing back," Malek said.
Pleased to be back with Binghamton, Malek characterized his 2006 campaign to date as "very frustrating." In 52 games at Double-A, Malek has batted .246 with five home runs and 24 RBI, and has served two separate stints on the disabled list.
Malek strained his right hamstring on May 23 against Portland and went on the disabled list retroactively six days later.
Finally back with the B-Mets in early June, Malek was playing in just his fifth game since returning when he made the poor decision to slide head-first into home plate, his left hand catching the shin guard of Reading catcher Jeff Winchester.
"I was thinking about taking him out or running him over," Malek said, "and I saw the back corner of the plate open. I said, 'You know what? I can get in there without busting up a shoulder or anything.'
"He ended up coming back over and got me with the shin guard."
Sent back to the Mets' training facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Malek performed a lot of running drills for the first two weeks – his hamstring still hadn't returned to 100 percent – before beginning mobility and strength exercises on his left wrist, which was guarded by a brace.
Through the recovery process, Malek said he kept tabs on the B-Mets via the Internet. In his absence, Binghamton (48-49) has recovered from a subpar start to move within the fringes of the Eastern League pennant race, trailing Northern Division-leading Portland by 6 ½ games entering play Sunday.
Binghamton is just 1 ½ games behind second-place Trenton, and Malek said his focus for the remainder of the schedule will be on shunning personal statistics and instead helping the B-Mets close that gap.
"We somewhat have a chance at this," Malek said. "That's the name of the game – trying to help the team win and trying to get into the playoffs.
"As far as numbers go, the numbers aren't going to be that big. You're not going to worry about hitting 30 doubles, or trying to do anything. You just help the team win. That's the bottom line."