Todd Donovan: Down and Dirty

Todd Donovan is one of those players that reminds you a bit of Lenny Dykstra, or the old-timers from the 60's and 70's who thought if their jersey was clean they hadn't played that day. That attitude has also hampered his trek to the Major Leagues. A member of the San Diego Padres' 40-man roster back in 2001, Todd Donovan is fighting to get back to the big show.

Our first question, obviously, had to be if Donovan has suffered any injury setbacks, or more specifically any breaks and not to harp on it, but to your left hand?

"This season I stayed free from any breaks," Donovan said. "I have had some tough ones in the past. My timing has been terrible. It is part of the game. I have learned how to deal with it – coming back with injuries. Last season, the only thing I had to deal with was a concussion. I actually caught a ball and ran into the wall in centerfield in Mobile and was out for about 14 days with a pretty severe concussion. That was much better than the breaks – not as much time off the field."

Todd Donovan's inclusion on the Padres' 40-man roster in November of 2001 was the zenith. It is a moment any prospect will remember.

"It was the best day of my life. I can remember the day I got the phone call from Kevin Towers.

"That kind of told me, with all my injuries, by putting me on the roster – that they had some plans for me, they felt as though I could play in the big leagues and barring any injury any freak season, which unfortunately I had last year, they were going to send me up and give me a chance, lay me in the big leagues.

"Unfortunately, my stay there was quite short. I broke my hand in the very first exhibition game we played against the Anaheim Angels. I went in, in the sixth inning. I pinch ran for Klesko, stole a base and scored a run. I got the jitters out right away. I kind of felt like this is the same as anywhere else. I think I got a little too comfortable. I dove for a ball I probably shouldn't have considering what kind of game it was – what it meant. But that's the way I have been taught to play and it is all I knew."

It was in a 2002 charity game in Tempe, Arizona. Todd Donovan broke a bone in his left hand making a spectacular diving catch off the bat of Andy Thompson of the Anaheim Angels with one out and no one on in the bottom of the eighth inning.

It was the third time Donovan was sidelined by an injury to his left hand. He suffered a non-displaced fracture of his left thumb making a diving catch in Lake Elsinore which sidelined him for a month. He played only two games before sustaining a displaced fracture of the same left thumb while making a head-first slide into first base.

"Just like in the past, I was broke, I was down, I was down for fourteen weeks and right back to where I started and I haven't really recovered as well as my other injuries. That is part of the game."

More appropriate would be it is reflective of the way he plays. Leave your heart on the field and give it everything you have.

Now his hand is experiencing its first injury-free offseason, but with that are other problems to overcome.

"My left hand – the weather change affects it. If we have a bad rain storm or a snow storm or if it is hot one day and cold the next. I got a little arthritic – some feelings in there that the doctors told me I would have. I have some hardware in there – four screws, which they mentioned they could take out down the road if it bothers me. I know they are in there.

Injuries inevitably bring doubt. All the time on the sidelines makes one wonder if it is worth it. But this is the Major Leagues we are speaking of. Every kid's dream. If you have the talent, this is just a stepping stone that has to be dealt with.

It is an old cliché, "responding to adversity," but it has a lot of truth to it. After something so crushing, it is how Donovan responds that will be the true test of his character.

He admits it has been tough, and just now is on the road to mental recovery.

"I think a lot of it is just mental. It is tough. It is something I look down and see every single day. I know that could have been the break that cost me a chance to play in the big leagues. Not just because I was on the roster that year, but mentally and physically it has cost me. As much as I can workout, I can't lift things as well. My strength isn't as well. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and there is a reason why that happened that day. There is a reason why it happened that year in big league camp and it has made me stronger."

Does that mean he will change his aggressive style of play to meet his new body?

Not likely, Donovan doesn't think there is such a thing as being too aggressive – regarding his play.

"I think there is (such a thing as too aggressive) for certain players. If I didn't play the way I do, by running into walls or sliding head first or diving for balls in the outfield, I probably wouldn't be where I am right now.

"I am not a very big guy. I don't hit a lot of home runs. There are few players in the minor leagues, or even the major leagues for that matter that can do what I try to do day in and day out, stay healthy and take advantage of times when their team really needs them. As far as the style of play that I have, I don't think you can be too aggressive. If I didn't do it, than somebody else would be and I wouldn't have a job. This is the way I need to play if I plan on making it in the major leagues. This is why I have gotten to where I am. Hopefully it will carry me to San Diego.

Staying healthy is the key to his ultimate success. He is not afraid of the "old-fashioned" moniker and wears it well. He is inherently proud of his upbringing on the east coast and fashions himself as a "throwback" player.

"I just think coming from the northeast the style of ball we play is different from the style of ball down south and out west. You tend to see that when you come up in the minor league system, especially spring training you can almost pick out guys that are from the northeast cause we play a different style of baseball.

"I think the way I play and the things that I have to do are probably back in the 60's and the 70's – get your uniform dirty everyday diving for balls, bunting and running and all that kind of stuff. It is more the old school style of play and today's baseball is more ‘Let's sit back and wait for the three run home run.'"

That style has led him to the 40-man roster once and Donovan, now 25, knows it won't be an easy road back. The odds are stacked against him at his age and his injury history. It doesn't mean he won't try. That mentality, based on his all out play, is not something that is in him.

Now healthy in 2004 – watch out outfield walls – Todd Donovan is coming to get you. Detergent companies are set to make some money this season with Donovan back on the prowl.

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