Nov. 18, 2009
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
The manner in which Anthony Rendon, Michael Fuda and Chad Mozingo suffered the ankle injuries that subsequently led to their near-identical surgeries befitted their personalities in an odd way, yet another unusual twist for three players linked by one vital joint and one prolific surgeon.
Rendon was in the spotlight, aggressively pursuing a foul pop fly at Alex Box Stadium in Game 2 of the Baton Rouge Super Regional. He had torched LSU in Game 1 (3-for-4 with a double, a homer and two RBIs), a typically sensational performance that introduced the nation to his myriad skills, his affable demeanor and disarming smile. That effort certainly confirmed his extraordinary statistics to those not privy to how they were compiled, so when Rendon stepped awkwardly near the railing by the bullpen beyond third base - on his 19th birthday, no less - every eye in Alex Box Stadium seemed mesmerized by his movements.
Equally unassuming and self-effacing, Fuda was in the middle of nowhere - Clarinda, Iowa to be geographically precise - playing summer league ball for the Clarinda A's in the M.I.N.K. League. A fraction of the witnesses who watched Rendon roll his right ankle saw Fuda do the same, and news of his injury spread virally to his teammates. Fuda was only eight games into his stint, and 10 days after Rendon went under the knife to have his torn lateral ligaments mended, Fuda did too.
The haphazard tenacity that embodies Mozingo and his style of play caught up with him by the close of his sophomore season. He had rolled his left ankle countless times and often had it reinforced with tape so that he could reclaim his customary position in right field and in the heart of the Owls' batting order. No amount of ankle sprains or hamate breaks were going to slow Mozingo from his appointed duty, at least not until the training staff took a look at his worn joints and insisted that he eschew his Cape Cod League engagement in favor of a pair of surgeries.
"It seemed like every other day (Mozingo) would tweak his ankle," Rendon said. "And then when I went down I just didn't think anything of it. And then when I had heard the phone call of (Fuda) going down, I was like, `No way. This can't be happening." When we all got back here after surgery and we saw each other on crutches, I was like, `Really?' It was weird."
While varying levels of frustration taxed Rendon, Fuda and Mozingo throughout the summer months and into the fall workouts, the timing of their injuries proved fortuitous. Dr. Tom Clanton, a renowned surgeon who worked with the Texans and Rockets as well as the Owls, was available to perform each procedure before relocating his practice to Vail, Colo. The assurance that they were under the care of a physician considered to be among the superior talents in his field assuaged any pre-surgery concerns Rendon, Fuda and Mozingo might have harbored.
With Rendon and Fuda undergoing their procedures just 10 days apart - Rendon on June 16 and Fuda on June 26 - they were separated by one week on their rehabilitation schedules. That proved particularly comforting to Fuda, whose blazing speed is his greatest asset. By studying and communication with Rendon, Fuda knew what to expect next during his rehab cycle, and with Rendon applying his usual casual approach to his rehab, Fuda found it easier to not fret over his status.
"I could see (Rendon) one day feeling a little better and it didn't hurt as much," Fuda said. "Just watching me coming behind him (was helpful)."
There were, however, periods of discouragement. While Rendon needed and appreciated the time away from baseball, his being bedridden prevented him from swinging a bat. A walking boot, then an ankle brace, dissuaded Rendon from getting action in the batting cage, but he couldn't go any longer without working on his swing, a desire that prompted his taking hacks while kneeling. Eventually Rendon and Fuda were cleared to participate in fall workouts, both with unnatural restrictions.
Sliding was prohibited, as was running especially vigorously. Both found navigating the basespaths difficult, with sore ankles proving maddening.
"Running the bases it feels weak so it's always in the back of your mind," Fuda said. "Everything you do it's always there, and I want to go out there without tape and without a brace and be back to last year's form."
Unlike Rendon and Fuda, Mozingo was not cleared for full participation. His right wrist surgery pushed back the originally scheduled date for the procedure on his left ankle, and the latter date was postponed three weeks when ant bites on his lower leg made surgery particularly risky. After having missed out on the golden opportunity to play in the Cape Cod League in advance of his draft-eligible junior season with the Owls, Mozingo was especially on edge while watching his teammates this fall.
"I was real bored all summer and kind of regretting the decision and wishing I would have gone to Cape Cod," Mozingo said. "I had a good year despite the fact (the ankle) was taped up, and it really got to a point where it didn't affect me at all. But the doctors said that I would be better than before for getting this (surgery), and hopefully I'll be faster and able to turn a little better on it. Hopefully it will pay off in the end.
"I couldn't throw for a while when I was in the cast, and then when I came back I actually felt like my timing was OK but my wrists were a little out of shape from getting the bone out. I had a little trouble turning on it but it's all starting to come back. I've got plenty of time to rebound."
Time is on the trio's side. Rendon flashed his brilliant bat control several times during the fall, and even with his limited mobility his defense was up to his exacting standards. Fuda posted an impressive time when the coaching staff clocked the Owls in the 60-yard dash, and by the date the Owls resume workouts in mid-January, Fuda should be back to beating out infield singles with his usual flair. That Mozingo (.319 with eight homers and 50 RBIs) performed so exceptionally last season despite his litany of maladies leaves one anticipating how exceptional he will be as a junior now that his lingering ankle problems are a thing of the past.
Rendon (.388, 20 homers and 72 RBIs) and Fuda (.359, three homers and 21 RBIs) are looking to build on fantastic freshman seasons, and like Mozingo they fully comprehend how crucial their production is to the Owls' national championship aspirations. Their injuries have tested their patience, but their longing for a return to form is their motivation.
"Really I just want to strengthen my ankle to get back to where it was," Fuda said. "I don't think any of us are a hundred percent and ... we're just trying to get back and get as many reps as we can on the field."
Added Mozingo: "None of us can wait to get rid of that soreness and just feel a hundred percent. For me in particular, having played with it all last season I have that hope that I will be even better than last season."