ALTOONA, Pa. -- It had been a long time coming, but Sunday night in front of 8,656 fans, Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli returned to the field and the only position he's ever wanted to play.
"I'm not a baseball player, I'm a catcher," Cervelli said after his rehab appearance for the Altoona Curve. "Everything else is boring for me."
Cervelli went 1 for 3 with a double and was hit by a pitch before being replaced following his at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning by catcher Jason Delay. Altoona went on to drop a 7-3 decision to Reading.
When asked about what it was like to play the game again, Cervelli beamed much like he was one of the Little Leaguers playing in the World Series.
"It felt like it was my first time in the big leagues, that's how it felt," Cervelli said. "To be able to play again after almost 80 days of doing nothing, I play today like it was the last game of my life, but it's not!"
The plan for Cervelli is to head to Triple-A Indianapolis where he will continue working his way back to the major leagues as a catcher.
"I'm going to Triple-A (on Monday), then keep playing until they call me," Cervelli said. "I have to get ready, and when they need me I'll be there."
To get back to playing was never a guarantee for Cervelli. To play the game Sunday and be able to catch, he showed nothing but gratitude both on and off the field.
"The feeling I had was bad. Today, I feel lucky and I got to be grateful for every opportunity I get in life to do what I like to do," Cervelli said.
Only he and his doctors know how truly difficult it was to get back to this point and despite the setbacks and batteries of testing, Cervelli was undoubtedly optimistic about his future, both this year and in the future.
"It's been difficult but always you take a lot of positive things," he said "It's still a learning process and I can help a lot of people with this because I'm doing a lot of new things. I can help the catchers to do it, right after they get concussions, because it's not fun."
Cervelli has had at least six documented concussions in his 12-year MLB career.
"When you have concussions, you cannot hit. It's impossible. You guys saw it, I was hitting nothing there," Cervelli said. "Just getting hit all the time since spring training, and I didn't take care of it the right way. I wasn't able to coordinate or do things the right way, so now I feel like I can do it."
Cervelli is set on catching but also aware of the risks that might come with his history of head injuries. He said he isn't worrying.
"I used to, but not anymore," Cervelli said. "Of course, I want to be good long term. I want to have my family I don't have. I'm gonna be very careful about this. This time I'm going to be very honest if something happens."
According to Cervelli, anything that could be done was done to get cleared and get back to baseball activities.
"I don't have any problems in my brain, I don't have any little things there that can affect me later," Cervelli said. "I did something new and I'm able to handle it now in a different way.
"I'm focused to play this year, finish this year. Next year is a mystery, so I'm going to enjoy this year and then I'm going to be able to let other teams know that I can catch."
There's still a long way to go for Cervelli to get back to the Pirates and finish this final year of his contract, but in the meantime his rehab stint has him enjoying the moment and making an impact.
"Baseball has been almost my whole life; I don't know anything else," Cervelli said. "Still my blood is boiling. I want to be up there, so today catching was amazing.
"Not only am I going to enjoy it when I go back to the big team, I'm going to enjoy every moment here in the minors, too," he said.
The Curve might not have won with Cervelli in the lineup, but regardless of the outcome of the game, just getting back to this point was a personal victory.
"I feel already a winner," Cervelli said. "I was bad for 70 something days and now I'm here playing."
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