Nixon ready for first game action
Tribe right fielder coming off offseason back surgery
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Trot Nixon might be on the verge of carving out a little niche for himself."I could be," he said, "the first-ever player/trainer." Nixon has certainly been in the training room enough over the years to have a feel for the job. He could use his six stints on the disabled list in seven seasons as a reference point if he ever decides to be a trainer-in-training. For now, though, Nixon really just wants to be a player. And on Saturday, mercifully, after weeks of rehab in the wake of offseason back surgery, he'll be just that. The Indians will get their first look at Nixon in a game situation when he suits up and plays right field against the Reds. Signing Nixon to a one-year, $3 million contract in January to be their starting right fielder against right-handed pitching was clearly a medical risk for the Tribe. Not only is he coming off an '06 season in Boston that saw him miss more than a month with a strained right bicep, he's also coming off a back problem that, just months ago, had him wondering if his playing days were done. The 32-year-old Nixon had just begun his offseason workouts in mid-November when his lower back flared up. He tried to rehab it, but the pain kept getting worse. By early December, he was under the knife of Dr. Barth Green at the University of Miami, having a bulging disk repaired. These hardly were inspiring developments for a free agent looking for a fresh start with a new club. Nixon had spent 10 years with the Red Sox, but the club was replacing him with J.D. Drew. And as word of his back problem spread, the market for Nixon wasn't exactly bustling. Luckily, he had more than one agent at his disposal. "The saving grace for me was my doctor," he said. "My agent did a great job, but my doctor was also a driving force in telling teams that I was totally fine." What Nixon needed, then, was a team willing to listen. He eventually found it in the Indians, who were looking for a little dose of experience into their youthful lineup.
The Tribe had inquired about Nixon early in the Hot Stove season but backed off after the signing of David Dellucci. In January, however, when it became clear only a handful of teams were still looking at Nixon and his price tag was fairly affordable, the Indians' interest resurfaced.Manager Eric Wedge expects to plug him into the No. 2 spot of the lineup on days he starts. "We just want him to be the player he's been," Wedge said. "He's a guy you know is going to go up and put up a good at-bat. He plays a very professional right field, and he's going to be smart on the bases. He's another leader by example." Nixon's early days with the Indians, however, have been spent largely behind the scenes. The back hasn't been giving him trouble, but the surgery caused numbness that ran down his left leg and into his foot. "I kind of had to reboot the nerves going down my leg," he said. "It's not just in my quad, but also all the muscles in my ankle and foot." In Nixon's mind, while he hasn't played any Grapefruit League games, he has forged a daily battle with his injury. "Every day is a little battle," he said. "I have to do little daily tests to see if I'm ready for the baseball stuff." The rehab process never gets easier for a player, but Nixon has learned how to keep it from messing with his mind. "The biggest thing is understanding the process," he said. "You're going to go through frustrating times, and you have to be patient. I just remember that God has a plan, and if I'm going to spend time on the DL, there's a purpose for it." Perhaps that purpose is a novel job idea. Player/trainer, after all, has a nice little ring to it. "I should know how to do it," Nixon said with a smile. "I've got a few rehabs under my belt."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.