A.J. Pollock: Returning from elbow injury has been a total team effort

A.J. Pollock had a breakout season in 2015, when he posted a .315/.367/.498 line and won a Gold Glove Award. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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I felt the pop in my elbow and knew exactly what had happened.

It was April 1, two nights before our first game of the regular season, and after sliding headfirst into home, I pushed off the ground to get to my feet, and I felt the pop.

There was a split-second when a hope zoomed through my mind that maybe the same injury hadn't happened, but when I grabbed my right elbow and felt for the bone, I could feel the indent from a fracture. I had a flashback to the first time this had happened to me.

Earlier in spring training, we had found out that the screw placed in my elbow during a surgery in 2010 had split in half, and I had missed a lot of spring training games. There wasn't anything we could do about that without an operation, but as the start of the season got closer, I felt ready to go -- until I started to get up after that slide.

When I got to the clubhouse, Gary Waslewski, our team doctor, quickly examined my elbow and gave me a rough look. He knew what had happened too. Most of the guys still playing the game came back from the dugout and gave me a hug. Chip Hale, our manager, spent a good inning or two with me. "It's all right," he said. "It's going to be fine." There were a couple emotional hours, and I'll never forget the support I got that night, with the players and the coaches letting me know that they were there for me.

That night, the X-ray machine at Chase Field happened to be broken, so we went to a hospital for an examination. I was assigned to a room and waited. It just so happened that Kate, my wife, had picked her dad up from the airport within the hour that I got hurt, so she rushed over. Judy Hale, Chip's wife, was also a big help.

They rolled a portable X-ray machine into my room, but I knew what the images would show. I didn't even bother to look -- not because I was disgusted by it but because it would only confirm what I already assumed. Kate played lacrosse at Notre Dame and knew what it would take to rehabilitate an injury like that, and she was pretty upset, and it became more of a case of me comforting her. (Or maybe she was upset because she knew she would have to deal with me at home the rest of the season.)

I had a hard time getting to sleep that night. When you get hurt, you have a lot of stuff racing through your mind.

I knew exactly who would do the surgery: Dr. Don Sheridan, who is one of the best in the world at what he does. I had surgery on my hand before, and he did that. We had become friends, and as we got ready for the elbow surgery, he gave me some confidence. He definitely gave me peace of mind by saying, "We're going to fix this once and for all."

It was a delicate and complicated surgery. He hoped to get the old screw out of the bone -- without making a huge mess of my elbow -- then take some bone from my hip for a graft to help new growth at the point of the fracture. But he had total conviction.

I woke up after the surgery, and Dr. Sheridan came in, looking completely exhausted, like someone who had run a marathon. But he had prepared for hours for this, and he was fired up. He showed me, with a bunch of pictures from the surgery, how well it went. "Everything is exactly where it's supposed to be," he told me. For the first time in years, my elbow was in exactly the right alignment.

Then Dr. Sheridan reached out with something in his hand and dropped it into my hand: the old screw. I saw the pictures of the hole where the screw was, and I have no idea how he got it out of there. It was pretty amazing. There were lots of hugs in that room.

I began working with our great athletic trainers, including Ken Crenshaw, who is unbelievable because of the attitude he brings every day, the unselfishness. I'd thank him for some progress we made, and he'd say, "It's all you." Clearly, that's not true. There were a lot of other people who have helped along the way, including trainer Ryan DiPanfilo, strength and conditioning coordinator Nate Shaw, physical therapist Ben Hagar and medical coordinator Kyle Torgerson. It's a complete team effort, and when you walk into the room and need something, they'll drop whatever they're doing and immediately say, "Let's do it." They're completely invested in making you better. Kate has been the No. 1 rock star, getting me ready for each day, making the meals and working on my nutrition, which might've been the most important part of the healing.

Six weeks into the rehabilitation process, I had a scan to determine how the bone was healing, and we didn't expect much. Having gone through this once before, I was thinking we might not have much healing at all. But you could see in the images that it already had gotten a lot better. There were only a couple spots that still showed the fracture line. Ten weeks in, we had another scan, and it was exponentially improved. By week 12, you couldn't see any lines from the fracture; it was rock solid. The whole thing was normal. It was incredible.

I sent a text to thank everybody: our athletic trainers, Dr. Waslewski and Dr. Sheridan, and Dr. Sheridan responded with a line from the movie "Apollo 13": "This is going to be our finest hour." We had gone from that terrible moment at Chase Field on the eve of the season to a fully healed elbow in just a few months.

I remember the first time I threw with Ken Crenshaw, something you have to do incrementally, starting with a tennis ball thrown just a couple of feet. That went well, so we moved up to a 4-ounce ball. Then a normal baseball. Everything felt great; everything was so smooth. When I took batting practice in recent years, I had to ease into it with the first swings of the day. Now I'm able to take a full hack on the first swing.

On Aug. 4, I got to begin my rehabilitation assignment. I got a single in four at-bats, and moving along to Class A, I homered in my first game with the Visalia Rawhide. On my drive away from the park after the game, I was thinking about how awesome it felt to be out on a baseball field. It felt amazing and powerful to be able to do that again. I didn't care where it was, in Class A or the big leagues. I was back on a field, healthy again, whole again.