The worse thing that can happen to anyone in the minors is a major injury. So much of the minor leagues are age driven. Players have a small window of opportunity to achieve and being injured not only sets back your development, but someone can also take the spot you have worked so hard to get too.
In 2005, Brett Bonvechio had a good year in Lake Elsinore, hitting .267/.385/.460 but suffered through an injury plagued year in Mobile hitting .236/.340/.396 and undergoing three knee surgeries between June of 2006 and April of 2007 on the same knee.
When Bonvechio returned in mid-year to Double-A, the Padres had Chase Headley at third base, who isn't going anywhere, and at the level below David Freese wasn't far behind. The Padres put him at first base and Bonvechio, 24, hit .333 in through August before a back injury on a wet infield finally caught up with him and put him on the bench again in mid-August.
Why don't you go through some of the injuries that you've had since we spoke to you last year in Mobile? I believe towards the end of the year you had a knee injury?
Brett Bonvechio: In June of last year I had my first knee surgery and then in October of the off-season I had my second knee surgery and my third knee surgery was April 12th of this year. I was down in extended [spring training] because of injuries and just missing so much of spring training. I was catching a game there against Texas and I shifted to catch a slider and my knee popped.
First question why did you need three knee surgeries?
Brett Bonvechio: First one I just had a whole bunch going on in there. I had a torn meniscus and a torn labium, the skin fold that lubricates the knee, torn cartridge. The meniscus they stitched back together hoping that it would heal back together and that it wouldn't create arthritis later in my life. I don't know if I pushed myself too hard, but by the end of the season I was hobbled again. I tried to rest it during the off-season and it didn't get any better, so I went down to San Diego and got an MRI and it was torn worse than it was the first time. So for the second surgery they tore the entire meniscus and stitched it all up. My knee was feeling pretty good in spring training, but I think with the catching since I hadn't done it in awhile, just caused it too much stress, so that is when I had the third surgery.
Minor league baseball is tough enough to keep your confidence up in yourself, you get worried about players passing you, how old you are, etc. How were you able to get to mentally get through your injuries?
Brett Bonvechio: It's a tough thing to do. You know my first injury wasn't that bad because it was my first knee injury. It was kind of like, ‘ok, stuff happens and I'm going to have to work hard.' When the second one happened it was kind of a shock to me and I thought, ‘ok I just have to be a little more careful this time.' Injuries itself is the hardest when you first get diagnosed with them because everything runs through your mind. Once the surgery is done and you're in your rehab it's just about getting yourself back ready to play and it becomes a type of competition.
How long did it take you to get your timing back in the Arizona League after such a long layoff?
Brett Bonvechio: It wasn't that bad. I was 2 –for-3 in my first game and it was kind of like beginner's luck. You are just so happy to be back playing that you're not worried about your timing or what pitches are being thrown, you're just happy to be out there playing. It took me about 15 to 20 at-bats before I thought, ‘I'm ready for Double-A competition.'
You had to feel pretty happy about how well you performed when you first came up to San Antonio.
Brett Bonvechio: Absolutely, when you go through injuries like that, three in a year, negative things that go through your mind are all pushed out that you came back and are playing well and you feel good. The first month up here was amazing. Being back with the guys and I was just having so much fun playing again. I wasn't putting pressure on myself and thought, ‘I'm just going to go out there and have fun and if I'm having fun, I'm doing well and I'm helping the team.'
Unfortunately lets go a little to the negative, how did you get hurt this time?
Brett Bonvechio: The doctors said that I herniated a disk jumping for a line drive in Tulsa when I landed, then slipped in some mud. It didn't hurt that bad at first, but it's just gotten worse and worse. This is probably the biggest injury for me right now in the last year because I worked so hard to get back from the three knee injuries to have something like this to happen for me is just tough.
What have you been doing here? Stretching, some weights?
Brett Bonvechio: I'm not allowed to do anything. Right now I'm just resting – no abs work outs, no running….nothing.
It must be driving you crazy.
Brett Bonvechio: Yeah, to say the least. They want me to rest until I have no symptoms left, and then begin a core program. Re-strengthen my back and abs so it will protect the disc.
Let's try to end this on a positive note. The Padres have so many third basemen now, you're catching a little and this year you mainly played first base. Where do you see yourself playing next year?
Brett Bonvechio: I'm not really sure, that is up to the organization to decide. I'll play anywhere they want me to play. It's gotten to a point in my career when you're young and you get drafted you think you will be playing third base your whole career and now it's well maybe not. As far as I'm concerned if I come back healthy next year, I'll play wherever they want me to next year.