Aug 29, 2015, 5:51 PM EDT
Just 72 hours before he was set to undergo season-ending surgery on his left hip, Denard Span stood at his locker in the Nationals clubhouse to address the media, all but resigned to the fact his career in Washington is almost certain to be over.
Just four days earlier he spoke to reporters in the exact same spot having just returned off the disabled list. He was ready for the homestretch of the season, positive the Nats could still make something of what was drawing close to being a lost year. He was optimistic that his body could hold up, that he could play through pain and give it one more go with the team that traded for him before the 2013 season.
But those hopes were dashed when the pain became unbearable, too much to play through. The moment came where Span had to confer with his mother – his closest confidant – and decide what was best for his career. Span was too hurt to help the Nationals in the capacity he was used to, and he will be a free agent this coming winter. The decision was made: undergo surgery and hope to be ready for 2016 spring training, wherever that may be.
Of course, that was not an easy call. And now Span has a long road back, a four to six month recovery that will have him walking with crutches at first. He will undergo surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn labrum. The procedure will involve shaving down his hip bone.
“It’s just frustrating, man, but I’m trying to stay positive as much as possible and just try to trust in God’s plan that I will overcome this. It’s just another chapter in my book. That’s all I can do right now,” he said.
Span said he first felt pain in his hip when he saw a back specialist right after the All-Star break. He received a cortisone shot in his back which helped alleviate the spasms he was suffering through. But the hip just continued to get worse.
Span then saw a hip specialist and received a cortisone shot for that. It took him another six weeks to return to the field, but he knew the hip would continue to be an issue.
Span thought he could play through the pain. He was not 100 percent when he took the field on Tuesday against the San Diego Padres, but played anyway. He didn’t expect the injury to be as painful as it turned out to be.
“I was on the field, but that was difficult. The first game I came in and got the standing ovation, that was the best/worst feeling ever. The fans were happy that I was back, but deep down I knew that I couldn’t give them what I normally can bring to this game and to the ballclub. People were telling me ‘you looked good last game.’ Yeah, I looked good. But I didn’t feel good,” he said.
The back and hip problems came on the heels of two offseason surgeries for Span. He had surgery in December to repair a sports hernia and then another procedure in March to fix one of his core muscles.
“It’s been a terrible eight months for me. Really almost a full year,” he said.
Span returned to the Nationals for the 2015 season after the team picked up his option in October. It was his third season in Washington – where he was born in 1984 – and in all likelihood his last.
If that is the case, Span will leave D.C. with the team record for hits (184) in a single season. That capped off a year in which he batted .302 with 94 runs, 31 steals and finished with NL MVP votes.
Span will now enter free agency and most likely get a multi-year deal with another club. With rookie Michael Taylor in store, the Nationals have the luxury of moving on from Span. There is always the possibility he could be back, but Span has come to grips with the fact his career in D.C. is probably over.
“I didn’t think about it until just reading some people’s comments on Twitter. That Wednesday night I didn’t think that it was going to be my last game. I didn’t have time to process that because I had so much other stuff going on. But the last couple of days it has been entering my mind, just seeing everybody’s well wishes and seeing people on Twitter appreciating me for what I brought to this organization on and off the field,” he said.
“It has made me sad because I’ve enjoyed my three years here. I feel like coming here really resurrected my career. Coming from Minnesota, this trade was probably the best thing for me at the time. I’ve learned a lot here from the coaching staff and my teammates. It’s just been a good time here.”
Span is unsure of where he will spend most of his time the rest of this year as he recovers. He did say, however, that he plans to make at least a few appearances at Nats Park before the season is over.
“I haven’t decided. I’m sure I’ll stick my head in here. I’ve got to come back and try to get my things together. I don’t know how I’ll be moving with the crutches and stuff. But I’m sure that you’ll be seeing me again before I get out of town. I’ll say my farewell to everybody. I’m not going to be one of those guys that disappears. I want to make sure I shake everybody’s hand and say goodbye, because this might be the last time.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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