Chop Talk: Schafer impatient for season
Braves' outfielder wants to prove self following wrist injury
If Jordan Schafer could turn back time, he would return to a rainy night in April.The Braves had just knocked off the Nationals, 6-5, thanks in part to Schafer, who scored the winning run after reaching on his second hit of the game. He was jubilant, celebrating after he slid across home plate to end the Braves' rain-delayed home opener at 1:25 a.m. ET. It was just the latest in a string of great moments for Schafer, who won the starting center fielder's job in Spring Training by hitting .324 and hit a home run in his first big league at-bat on April 5 against the defending World Series champion Phillies. He had five hits in his first four games (including his second home run in only his 11th at-bat). He was just 22 years old, and his rookie year was off to a tremendous start. More than 20 family members and friends attended the season-opener in Philadelphia, and he said he had to stifle a smile as he rounded the bases after hitting his first home run. It appeared Schafer's suspension-marred 2008 was way back in the rearview mirror. Something went wrong on that night of April 10, though. At first, Schafer didn't think much about the pain in his left wrist. He felt a pop when he swung at the first pitch of his 10th-inning at-bat, but then he singled on another pitch. He felt more discomfort on that swing and he thought something didn't feel right as he moved around the bases and scored the winning run. Caught up in the celebration, he kept his mouth shut, a move he now second-guesses. "I wish I had said something that night," said Schafer, only the fifth player in franchise history to hit a home run in his first at-bat. "I just didn't want to say anything. "I didn't want to tell them I was hurting. You work for something your entire life, and when you get to the top, you're hurt four games into your Major League career. You do anything to play. You do what you have to do to play." Schafer, the first Braves player to make his big league debut on Opening Day since 1981 (left fielder Rufino Linares), said he reported the pain to the Braves the next day, but thought he could play through it. He blocked it out, and at first, the strategy worked. The night after the injury, he had three more hits, even though his wrist hurt so much he could barely follow through on his swing. He thought it was just a nagging injury and that it would heal, so he kept playing and pushing and performing well enough to make the Braves and their fans believe their center fielder of the future was in Atlanta to stay. "He expressed to me that it hurt him," said Dave Schafer, Jordan's father. "He said, 'Dad, I've lived my whole life with this dream. If I have to play with one arm, I'm going to play.'" General manager Frank Wren said he was aware of the injury, but the consensus was that Schafer could play through it. "We just thought it was 'one of those things,'" Wren said. Soon, the hits stopped coming -- and the strikeouts began to pile up. Schafer finished April with a .273 average and a .415 on-base percentage. In May, he hit .158, and his OBP plummeted to .313. He struck out 63 times in 167 at-bats. On June 2, Schafer was demoted to Triple-A Gwinnett. Schafer doesn't know whether or not he caused more damage to his wrist by continuing to play with the injury. He saw action in only nine games for Gwinnett before doctors placed a cast on his hand and wrist for a month. On Aug. 31, hand specialist Dr. Gary Lourie removed a bone spur and stabilized two bones on the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint in Schafer's left hand. The Braves' third-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft remained in an immobilizing cast that extended from his fingertips to past his elbow for six weeks after the surgery.
|"It's hard enough to be a rookie in the Major Leagues, and it's even tougher to compete when you're injured."|
|-- Jordan Schafer|
Andy Johnston is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.