It’s a play Steven Souza Jr. said he’s done hundreds of thousands of times. Crossing home plate is about as basic of an action that a baseball player can accomplish.
But two days away from Opening Day, he slipped and sustained an ACL tear, LCL tear, partial PCL tear and posterior lateral capsule tear in his left knee. Three days ago, he had surgery to repair his knee.
“I just want to be back out playing baseball I think more than anything,” Souza said while holding back tears. “I can play this game, and I don’t want people to forget that, especially the Arizona fans. I’ve been here for 60 games, but you better believe I can play this game. I’m going to come back and I’m going to play this game at a high level. I’m going to show you that no matter what has happened in the past that I can play this game.”
The second-year Diamondback outfielder said he had to process a lot of emotions since the injury, but talking to Angels infielder Zack Cozart helped give him some perspective. He suffered tears in multiple ligaments and the bicep tendon in his right knee in 2015. He was able to boune back and play significant time in 2016 and had a 24 home run season in 2017.
Dr. Timothy Kremchek, who also oversaw Cozart’s procedure and rehab, i performed Souza’s surgery and was able to repair multiple ligaments in one sitting, trimming off months of potential rehab had they repaired one portion at a time. Kremchek told Souza his knee and Cozart’s looked “identical” during the procedures.
“(Cozart) kind of flipped my mindset after the first couple days when I didn’t know,” Souza said. “I’ve never had an injury of this magnitude.”
Thanks to speaking with Cozart and Seattle Mariners infielder Tim Beckham, who was faced with a similar scenario, Souza was refocused on getting back to the field.
“The overall consensus when I got to talk to a lot of the players was, ‘It’s scary at the beginning, but you’re going to be fine. There’s just a lot of work to be done.'”
Souza said he hopes to be ready to play in this year’s postseason if the Diamondbacks find themselves in the playoff hunt. Cozart told him he had his injury in mid-June but was fully healthy the following spring training.
“Knowing what Zack Cozart did and he came out fine, Kremchek’s protocol is what I’m going to abide by most importantly,” Souza said. “We obviously have an intelligent staff here, and I’m willig to listen to anything that’s going to speed up the process and not risk my knee….I know at the end of the day all those guys will get me to where I need to be.”
While he was just days removed from surgery, Souza wanted to be with his team in their home opener. He said it’s been a frustrating experience dealing with injuries since joining the Diamondbacks but wants to show the fanbase what he is capable of when fully healthy.
“It means a lot for me to show the fans that I’m still here, I’m still working hard, I’m still doing everything I can to get back, and I’m not giving up.”