During yesterday’s TV broadcast of the Mets – Braves spring training game, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling discussed Johan Santana, with Cohen going so far as to suggest that Santana’s “comeback” might serve as a case study for pitchers who have similar surgery in the future. Darling followed that by half-joking that Randy Niemann might find himself in a medical journal. With all due respect, can we wait until Johan pitches at least an entire month without a setback before even suggesting such things? He’s been on a throwing schedule that is close to a regular season routine for maybe two weeks (if that); the time previous was merely getting into shape. I for one would like to see Johan pain-free and injury-free through at least mid-May before anyone starts talking about his “comeback” — and even then, it might be premature.
What this mentality suggests is that there is a general feeling among people around the Mets — fans, broadcasters, teammates, coaches, journalists, etc. — that Johan Santana pitching on Opening Day is an end goal rather than a beginning. Maybe it’s me and my own misperception, but it seems to me that people think that if Johan can somehow, some way, be healthy enough and ready enough to make the Opening Day start, that everything will fall into place and Santana will be healthy ever thereafter. In other words, Opening Day is the finish line for Johan, rather than the starting blocks. It’s kind of like how many people miss the point of a school graduation — which is usually described as “commencement ceremonies” because it’s supposed to signify the BEGINNING of the students’ next stage in life, rather than the ending of their school years. Likewise, if Johan Santana is able to toe the mound on Opening Day, it should be seen as the beginning of his road back — not the end.
I hope this doesn’t sound like me being “Debbie Downer” because that’s not my intention. Rather, I’d like to point out the reality of Santana’s rehabilitation, and brace people for the very real possibility of some kind of setback occurring once Johan begins following a true MLB routine — and to not freak out when and if that setback happens. In a perfect world, Johan will pitch Opening Day and then go on cruise control for the rest of 2012, making 32 starts without incident. And while I’m sure many people know that’s unlikely to happen, the feel-good warmth of spring in Port St. Lucie can pull at the heart strings of even the most stoic folks.
My point is this: let’s please allow Johan Santana’s comeback to occur before labeling it a comeback — and be prepared for and accepting of setbacks as part of that journey. It’s not fair to him to expect anything else.