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06/24/08 7:59 PM ET

Future weighs on Smoltz's mind

Veteran considering options as injury plagues him with pain

ATLANTA -- Restricted by a bulky brace and burdened by numerous painful and sleepless nights, John Smoltz has had plenty of time to think about his future. At times, he thinks about the possibility of pitching again and at other times, he wonders if the time has truly come to realize his post-retirement plan of being a high school basketball coach.

A multitude thoughts have raced through Smoltz's head since he underwent season-ending right shoulder surgery on June 10. In fact, he's even allowed himself to wonder about the possibility of rejoining the Braves if they were in playoff contention during the final two months of next season.

"There's really nothing left for me to do," Smoltz said. "There's nothing I want to do but get back to the playoffs."

While this might not even be a possibility, the fact that the Braves' 41-year-old right-hander is at least thinking about this provides more indication that he's remained optimistic, even while his should has limited his activities and provided him constant pain that he likens to a bad toothache.

"I'd rather have another Tommy John [elbow ligament transplant surgery] than to have one of these surgeries again," said Smoltz, who had four elbow surgeries before having his shoulder cut for the first time two weeks ago.

When noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed the surgical procedure, he and his other doctors found some significant damage to Smoltz's shoulder. There was some damage to the rotator cuff. But most of the repairs were done to his biceps tendon and his labrum. Smoltz has been told that he might be able to begin throwing exercises in four months. But at the same time, he understands there's a good possibility that with the best-case scenario he wouldn't be available to pitch again in the Majors until June or July of next year.

"Once I find out whether I'm going to pitch or not, I'll be full bore toward doing whatever I'm going to do," said Smoltz, who made five appearances as a starter before his shoulder discomfort became too great for him to pitch.

Lately, Smoltz hasn't been able to do much of anything. His children have been forced to help him tie his shoes and the only golf-related activity that he's enjoyed are the one-armed putts he's made at his house.

Smoltz hopes to begin golfing again in two or three months and might be able to start traveling with the Braves again after the All-Star break. Because the brace prevents him from doing so many normal activities, he has constantly relied on friends and family members, who wouldn't necessarily be able to accompany him on the road trips.

"I'm not a big fan about people doing stuff for me," Smoltz said. "But my kids having to tie my shoes, I'm fine with that."

Even with all of his discomfort, Smoltz has been able to maintain this sense of humor. But the pain has limited his sleep significantly. In fact, when asked how he was doing on Tuesday, he responded with a smile and made sure it was known that he's slept nearly six hours after going to bed on Monday night.

Since going on the disabled list on April 28, Smoltz has said he would be content if he never had the opportunity to throw another pitch. That opportunity came on June 2, while attempting to return as a closer. Although he blew a save opportunity against the Marlins that night, he's still thankful he at least had that chance to pitch again.

Last week, while everybody marveled at Tiger Woods' ability to limp through 91 holes of golf and win the U.S. Open, Smoltz actually knew that his good friend was destined for season-ending knee surgery. The two had discussed it before the tournament even began.

Smoltz called the U.S. Open "the five greatest days of golf [he's] ever seen" and said that there was never any doubt that Woods was going to do whatever possible to win that 14th Major championship.

"He wanted to play, just like I want to pitch," Smoltz said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.