Devon Travis took the field with his Toronto Blue Jays teammates for a pre-game stretch Monday morning. When he returned to the clubhouse, he was smiling from ear to ear.
Travis didn't play in the late-morning intrasquad game — he won't see any action for at least another month due to off-season shoulder surgery — but just being on the field was enough for him.
"I'm finally getting the smile back on my face and that's a good thing," Travis said.
The second baseman missed 100 games with the lingering shoulder injury last year in his rookie season.
What started as a sore left collarbone for the 25-year-old after being hit with a blocked liner off the bat of Cleveland's Brandon Moss in May spread to his shoulder and turned into a months-long issue for Travis, who underwent two separate surgeries to repair it.
"Never would've thought that would lead to all this," Travis said. "It was the craziest thing I've ever been through — the toughest also."
His first surgery, in late September, removed a cyst, cleaned up the area and poked around to make sure there wasn't any further damage. The second operation, in November, placed two screws in his shoulder blade.
The timing of his first procedure meant Travis had to watch Toronto's post-season run from his couch in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"That was the toughest part of the whole thing — the mental part of thinking what could've been," he said. "The team is having all this success, the city's on fire, the stadium is packed. I just wanted to be there so badly and be a part of that.
"Playoffs is what the game's about, and I was stuck sitting home on my couch watching like a fan boy."
Although he didn't get to bond with his teammates over the post-season, Travis doesn't feel he's lost any of the personal connections he made with them earlier in the year.
Sluggers Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista — leaders on the team both offensively and in the clubhouse — did their part to make sure he always felt included.
"All off-season they checked in on me, just little texts from time to time saying 'Hey, how are you doing?' " Travis said. "Little things like that made me feel important."
Travis began last season on a hot streak, winning AL rookie of the month honours for April after hitting .325 with six home runs and 19 runs-batted in.
He initially played through the injury before landing on the disabled list. Travis returned for 26 games then re-aggravated his shoulder July 28.
That same day the Toronto traded Travis's middle-infield partner, Jose Reyes, to the Colorado Rockies for all-star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
"Man, I would've loved to play with Tulo in my rookie year," Travis said. "He's behind (Derek) Jeter as my favourite shortstop to watch.
"To have had an opportunity to play with Reyes and then Tulo in the same year would've been something I would talk about for years. I'd tell my kids and grandkids about it 50 years from now."
Travis doesn't have a timetable for his return but hopes to resume baseball activities in April. Until then he just has to wait.
"Hopefully I'll find out here soon that the bone's healed," he said. "If it is, then I can crank it up a little bit."
Toronto begins its official spring training schedule Tuesday with a game against the Philadelphia Phillies in nearby Clearwater, Fla. Having to watch everyone around him prepare for the upcoming season has been torture, Travis said.
"It's tough, it's so tough. That's the best way to put it — it's just been so tough," Travis said. "But through all of this I learned that you have to be real mentally strong to play this game.
"I got tested often mentally more so than physically. I know the shoulder will eventually get right but the hard part is to mentally continue to stay with it. Now I'm just trying to do the best I can to bring energy every single day and keep this smile on my face."