10/03/2002 5:07 pm ET
Gonzalez returns to cheer
Outfielder won't make trip to St. Louis this weekend
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- It took Luis Gonzalez a good half hour to get dressed Thursday morning, but that wasn't the most difficult part of his day.
No, the hardest part came when the Diamondbacks took the field in the top of the first and Gonzalez was left sitting on the bench, his left arm in a sling, covered by a windbreaker.
After batting .288 with a club-best 28 home runs and 103 RBIs, Gonzalez's season came to a sudden end when he collided with shortstop Tony Womack in short left field on Sept. 23 in St. Louis. Womack's knee hit Gonzalez's left shoulder as the left fielder slid into foul territory, causing a Grade 3 separation of the shoulder and a premature end to the slugger's season.
Diamondbacks team physician Dr. Michael Lee performed surgery on Gonzalez on Monday and said the chances of him being healthy for Spring Training next year were good. Gonzalez countered by saying he was 100 percent certain he would be ready to go.
Thursday, Gonzalez was anxious to begin his rehab program.
"I'd like to take this thing off right now to be honest with you," he said. "As far as what Dr. Lee has told me, I'm going to have to wear this sling for about two or three weeks, then I will start on extensive rehab. My wife and my family have already given me the green light (to work) nine-to-five, whatever I have to do to be ready to go. She (wife Christine) is more than willing to take a little bit more of the load at home with the kids to let me get back out on the field and do what I love to do."
Gonzalez was back on the field prior to Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Cardinals as he tossed out the ceremonial first pitch and received a big hand from the Bank One Ballpark crowd. Popular before, Gonzalez reached legendary status in the Valley of the Sun when he drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of last year's World Series.
"I'm here to be on the bench," Gonzalez said. "I've been with these guys for four years. Even though it's very difficult for me not to be out on the field, I want to be a part of it."
Gonzalez will not be traveling with the team to St. Louis, because he is still suffering from some sleepless nights and pain since the surgery.
"But, hopefully, we can get by this round and I'll be with the ballclub the rest of the way," he said.
Gonzalez is hoping that the injury will make him a better player for the 2003 season.
"I'm primarily left-handed," he said. "I'm learning how to use my right hand. I'm using this rehab as a positive because I think it's going to make me stronger on both sides. Now, when I go for rehab, I'm obviously going to have to work on my left shoulder. But I'm (also) going to strengthen my right shoulder. Hopefully, I'll be a lot stronger for next season."
Steve Gilbert is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.