“Thumbing my way back to heaven”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

Shin-Soo Choo showed me his left thumb today, and it’s pretty gnarly.

Not “gnarly” in a California slang/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sense, but… you know… gnarly. Gnarled. Not-so-easy-on-the-eyes. The area where his nail is supposed to be is mangled, and on the swollen thumb itself, you can clearly see the scars from the stitches, the remnants of the surgical procedure Choo had performed to repair the broken thumb in late June.

But “gnarly” is a drastic improvement over what Choo’s thumb looked like just a few weeks back. He showed me a picture from his iPhone of his thumb from the day the cast came off, and suffice to say it’s uglier than sin. Choo didn’t know if he had permission from the Indians’ training staff for me to post the photo here, so I won’t. But you’re probably better off that I don’t.

The point of all this is that Choo probably had no business being here, in the clubhouse at Class A Lake County, so soon after this particular surgery. The broken thumb he suffered as a result of a high and tight Jonathan Sanchez fastball was so extreme that, according to Choo, Dr. Thomas Graham had to use two small bones placed on each side of the thumb’s proximal phalanx to provide a stabilizing effect. As a result, his left thumb will forever be thicker than his right.

“I have no idea know where [Graham] got the bones,” Choo said.

The recovery time from the procedure was supposed to be eight to 10 weeks, possibly more. And yet here was Choo, six weeks removed from surgery and ready to begin a Minor League rehab assignment that, he hopes, will have him ready to rejoin the Indians’ lineup on Aug. 16 in Chicago.

“Special body,” he joked.

Now, whether Choo can provide a special impact on the Indians’ lineup at this critical juncture of the season remains to be seen. First things first, the Indians, who were one game up on the Tigers in the AL Central standings when Choo got hurt on June 24 and are four games back now, have the most important series of the season looming this week against Detroit. They hope to still be relevant by the time Choo returns.

Choo, meanwhile, will use the next week as a means to get his timing back. He hopes to move up the Minor League ladder before week’s end, possibly going on the road with Double-A Akron or Triple-A Columbus, because he doesn’t want Class A pitching to be the extent of his opposition.

But Choo has other matters going on in his life this week besides the rehab work. His wife, Won Mi Ha, is due to give birth to the couple’s third child and first daughter any day now (Abigail is the name they’ve tentatively picked out for her).

Choo’s time away from the Tribe this season has had the unintended effect of making him more domesticated and more appreciative of his wife’s many responsibilities.

“My wife has a hard life, taking care of two kids,” he said. “I say, ‘Hey, honey, you have a really hard job.’ You know, a lot of boyfriends or guys or whatever, your wife stays home and does house work, and you think, ‘Oh, you’ve got an easy job.’ But it’s not. It’s work. If you’ve ever done house work, you know. Laundry, making food, cleaning house. I learned from that. With the injury, I stayed home, and now I know she has a tough job.

“We’ve got a nice job. Playing in the big leagues, making money, seeing everybody in the stands. We’ve got a really good life, you know? Some people forget about it. But we’ve got a great job.”

Getting pulled away from that job has truly been a bummer for Choo, who remembers too well watching the Indians go to the playoffs without him in 2007, after he had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow.

Said Choo: “A lot of people say, ‘Don’t try to hurry back, make sure you’re healthy. The team’s going good, and, if you can’t play, maybe next year.’ That’s not for me. Every year is a chance to make the playoffs. This year, we have a chance and we have to take it. If I feel good, I want to play. If I’m hurt, I can’t do it. But if it’s possible to get back to the field to help the team, I want to.”

He’s expected back on the field with the Indians very soon. In the meantime, this is a huge week for the team trying desperately to keep its playoff hopes alive and the right fielder working on his timing, gnarly thumb and all.



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Excellent article Anthony. Really enjoyed the quotes from Choo. And as an obsessive pearl jam fan I liked the title too.

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