By Mike Brandyberry
Life and baseball both can teach you valuable lessons. Sometimes in life though, it isn’t how hard you work, but who you know. In Indians farmhand Bo Greenwell’s life, who he knows has helped him work hard to achieve his goals despite serious injuries and setbacks.
Greenwell was plagued with serious injuries for a year and a half before being able to experience a clean bill of health in June with the Carolina Mudcats. Greenwell has hit .328 since being activated at the High-A level, and moved into the second spot of the batting order after leadoff hitter Tyler Holt was promoted to Double-A Akron.
“Anybody that has been around the game long enough will tell you this game is tough mentally, not just physically,” Greenwell said. “You have to be lucky to stay healthy through a full season. I’ve been lucky, but last season was just one of those seasons where I had two big injuries. It was tough mentally.”
Greenwell was a sixth round pick in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft out of Riverdale High School in Fort Myers, Fla. He was progressing nicely as a solid left-handed, corner outfielder when he was hit by a pitch in June 2011 at High-A Kinston. The pitch shattered his left pinky finger, resulting in reconstructive surgery where a plate and four screws were inserted to rebuild his finger.
The finger injury ended his 2011 minor league season. He was deemed healthy in time to participate in the Indians’ Instructional League in Arizona last fall, but in his first week of action, Greenwell tore his ACL in his right knee. The injury didn’t just end his 2011 season, but immediately destroyed the first half of his 2012 season.
“To come up off the finger injury and get back and prove I’m back and healthy, only to go out to Arizona and tear my ACL, it took a lot out of me mentally,” Greenwell said. “One thing I learned with those injuries is to take it day-by-day, instead of looking at the long-term rehab process will get you through it.”
In high school, Greenwell was a highly recruited quarterback and safety, but he tore the same ACL and lost out on several Division 1 offers from schools to play football. At the time, the injury pointed him in the direction of baseball, but having to endure the same injury a second time made the rehabilitation process and the ability to trust his knee once healthy, much easier.
“I tore it my junior year in high school,” Greenwell said. “I think coming off of that knee injury, and having to go through the same music once again, it was easier this time to know that all this rehab, strengthening and everything I’ve gone through, I knew it was ready to withstand everything I would put it through.”
Now healthy, fully recovered from two major injuries in the last 12 months, Greenwell has been on a tear with the Mudcats. He originally worked his way back into the lineup slowly. But after Holt was promoted to Double-A Akron in mid-July, Greenwell has cemented himself in the second spot of the order, spraying the ball around the field and helping set the table for middle of the order hitters Giovanny Urshela and Jesus Aguilar.
Greenwell alwats has been a player to use the entire field. Right now, he’s been using the opposite field quite a bit while Carolina League pitchers look for him to prove himself as a hitter.
“I’ve always used the entire field and go to the opposite field. It’s only a matter of time when pitchers will start coming inside and that’s when you can display your power. Being that I’m a new face to these guys and teams, they’re going to stay away. When you’re a new face, fastballs away, they make you earn it the other way first.”
When the pitchers do finally come inside to Greenwell, he feels he is close to developing his power, something most minor league players need to grow before progressing to higher levels. Greenwell never has had more than six home runs in a full season, but already has hit two since his late-June return. He feels he’s very close to seeing that power soar.
“I’m right on the edge of being able to prove that I can be a guy who can put the ball over the fence on a consistent basis, and once I can do that, my game will go to another level,” Greenwell said.
While Greenwell has never had it easy in baseball and had to endure mental and physical setbacks, he’s been able to rely on a sounding board most ballplayers don’t have the privilege to experience. Greenwell’s father, Mike, had a 12-year career with the Boston Red Sox from 1985-1996, including two All-Star appearances and a Silver Slugger Award. The elder Greenwell was second in the American League Most Valuable Player voting in 1988, while leading the Red Sox to the American League Championship Series.
“He’s always been somebody who I’ve been able to turn to, in any aspect of the game or in life,” Greenwell said. “The man has been through everything. He’s been to the highest level of this game and one of the best players of his time. He knows how to take the good with the bad and how to grind, not just in baseball, but in life.”
Although Mike’s career was a successful one, his early success was curtailed by injuries as he aged in his career. His ability to rehab and return from injuries has been something that has benefited Bo in his times of mental and physical pain.
“He never had an ACL injury,” Greenwell said. “But he had nine knee operations and 12 all together, including a Tommy John operation, which was relatively new at the time. He’s been somebody I’ve been able to go to.”
Mike’s advice has always been to not look at the big picture during exercise and rehabilitation, but to make daily goals. Bo has found this successful and in helping return to play. In his most recent ACL injury, Bo feels it helped him return to game action almost a month in advance of his original target date.
“They tell you six to eight months of rehab, you don’t think eight months until I get on the field, you gotta think, ‘Today, I need to get this knee to bend a little more,’” Greenwell said.
Now fully healthy and producing at the High-A level, Greenwell is looking to build the consistency necessary to progress to the next level, continue his journey and hopefully experience the big league moment his father did a generation ago.
“I just have to stay consistent,” Greenwell said. “With any minor league ballplayer, everybody’s got the talent, physically. It’s just that the major leaguers can do it nine out of 10 times. I think that’s it, just staying consistent and trusting my ability, both offensively and every aspect that comes into play.”
Photo: Matt White/DTTWLN photographer