It's to be respected.
Francisco Cervelli knew exactly what he was saying when he told me this past Sunday at PNC Park that he was done catching. Just as he knew a week earlier when he'd insisted nothing about his positional status or stance had changed. Just as he knew several months earlier when he'd vowed, "I’m a catcher. It’s what I do. I catch.”
So I'll take all of those just as seriously as the message he posted on his Instagram account early Friday evening that began: "To say I quit from my catcher responsibilities is inaccurate. My hope is to catch again."
Accompanying the message was a photo, fittingly, of him wearing a catcher's mask.
"Not being in the catcher spot right now is part of the process of recovery from several concussions that have forced me to stop and think about my health beyond my baseball years," Cervelli's message continued, "that have made me reflect on my health and my life in general and how my decisions affect other people that want the best for me in the long run. I keep working hard, there’s no other way for me to do things. I love baseball, but I also have to take care of myself. I want to take care of myself and have quality of life now and hopefully for many more years. This requires to reinvent myself, have patience and keep working."
Turning more personal, he added, "In other words, to my fans, rest assured that I am working hard on my recovery and I will come back with more strength and the same passion I have always had for this sport. That, I can assure you: I have nothing other than passion, gratitude and love for what I do, for this sport. This isn’t just a job for me. This is part of my life and I can’t live my life without injecting passion and energy, heart and mind into what I do, whatever that is. "
And that's the key. As adamant as he was when we spoke Sunday, he left one crack in the door: He still had one more medical appointment at mid-week, to check on his concussion. And within that, it was easy to tell that, if there'd been so much as a sliver of daylight in the equation, he'd consider once again being exactly what he's always been.
Because with Cervelli, everything about baseball is about "passion and energy, heart and mind," as he put it. And as we all learn through life, those can pull us all over creation. Michael Jordan thought he was done, and then he wasn't. Brett Favre thought he was done about 100 times, and he still might not be. Mario Lemieux thought he was done, stayed done for years, and came back better than ever.
Not to compare Cervelli to that trio. It's about the emotion.
I hope, for this person, that it plays out precisely as he hopes. He's that good, that true. I hope even more, for this player, that it plays out that way. Because he is a catcher, and a damned good one at that. And at age 33, with all the disclosed concussion diagnoses -- six in Major League Baseball alone -- switching to somewhere else on the diamond almost surely would spell an early end to his career.
In the interim, as with any of us, what matters most is health. I've covered athletes who never knew when to stop after concussions, who kept going out for more, even after days, weeks or months of symptoms. Because they loved their sport, their profession, more than their own well-being.
In Cervelli's case, as he unsettlingly acknowledged in our talk Sunday, it wouldn't take much to set him back. A foul tip. A back swing. Just a burst of breeze, really, at this stage. Concussions don't go away. They accumulate. Doctors will attest to that, just as they'll point out that there's no subtraction in those columns. They don't fade over time. They just hold onto the most recent number until another's added.
Maybe he'll go to Class AAA Indianapolis and play nothing other than a different position, as he suggested to me Sunday. Maybe that'll be the plan for the remainder of the year. Maybe he holds catching up as a carrot for himself to excel in that context. And maybe, just maybe, the Pirates themselves will step in and prevent him from getting behind the plate again.
Credit to Cervelli for giving it one more shot. He has more information than any of us. Credit to the Pirates, chiefly Neal Huntington, for their handling of this delicate situation.
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