|Plenty of concerns were raised after Buster Posey's ankle injury last season. (US Presswire)|
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Nothing like sprinting right out of the spring gate, leaving three torn ankle ligaments and one broken leg in a heap somewhere behind you.
"It feels great," said Giants catcher Buster Posey, back on the field in an official capacity for the first time since insurance companies were debating whether to claim him as a total loss last May 25. "It's nice just to be back on the field doing normal stuff."
As San Francisco took its first steps Sunday toward fixing last year's collision with reality while attempting to defend that 2010 World Series title, the best news was that Posey's steps were firm. His footing was solid. His balance was back.
There was no babying him. He caught a Tim Lincecum bullpen session. Then he caught a Matt Cain bullpen session. Then he moved into the batting cage with the other catchers, squatted behind the plate to receive pitches so he could practice exploding out of his crouch, as if positioning to throw a runner out at second base.
That finished, it was onto the main field here at Scottsdale Stadium for an impressive round of batting practice that elicited howls of delight from the smattering of fans watching on a cool, sun-splashed day. Then it was off to one of the back fields to run, and not just straight lines. He made cuts and changed directions.
"What you think is that after what happened last year, it's a clean slate," Lincecum said. "Posey's kind of back to being Posey."
"He looks healthy," Cain said. "You can see the excitement in his face.
"You can see that he's energized."
From Rookie of the Year in 2010 to Scott Cousins roadkill in that horrific play at the plate against the Marlins last May 25, Posey, 24, already has experienced more ups and downs than the most avid hikers on nearby Camelback Mountain.
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We'll know more as the normal wear and tear a catcher cannot avoid chomps around his edges as the season rolls on. But as far as openings go, the only miscue Sunday came following Lincecum's throwing session. Posey offered a fist to bump. Lincecum offered a hand to shake.
Timing and communication. That's what the spring is for, right?
They settled on a handshake.
"He's pretty much good to go," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Bochy spent a good deal of time following the controversial play last summer lobbying baseball to change its rules to better protect catchers. He spoke with folks in the commissioner's office. The end result, like most things baseball, was that the suits said they'd study the issue. Then, it just sort of faded away.
The manager has told his catcher in no uncertain terms this spring that he does not want Posey blocking the plate, under any circumstances, period. In Cactus League games or in regular season games.
And nine months after the crash, Bochy, who spent nine seasons in the majors as a catcher himself, reiterated that he would like to see the rules adjusted.
"I'm still going to push for a way to protect these kids at the plate," Bochy said. "We've made adjustments to our game. They've made adjustments in football and hockey.
"I think it's time. I've talked to some managers who are for it, and some who are against it."
Bochy's idea is to have a "zone" where a catcher can go and be protected, "like a fair catch in football."
Problem is this is the way the game has been played for 100 years. Bang-bang plays at the plate are part of the deal. Every catcher knows this.
"I don't know if much can be done," Eli Whiteside, Posey's backup who was rushed into action last summer, said. "It's been a part of the game for a long time. It's a game steeped in tradition. I don't know what you can do."
Best thing Bochy has on his side is that crashing into the catcher is banned in high school and college. The baserunner must slide. So when catchers turn professional, Bochy said, "these kids are working at an unfair advantage" because they haven't learned to protect themselves.
But you can't legislate everything. And even Posey notes -- actually, Sunday, he emphasized -- that he was actually in front of the plate when his catastrophic injuries occurred.
"I want to make it clear, I wasn't blocking the plate," Posey said. "That's the dicey part, figuring out where you need to be to avoid [a collision]."
There are fewer collisions at first base than at the plate, which is why the Giants intend to play Posey there some this season, both to save some wear and tear on his legs and to protect their most important position player. Bochy said Posey will get some work at first base this spring, though he declined to look ahead to the regular season and deliver a rough plan as to how many games Posey will get at catcher and how many at first.
Good as he is behind the plate, it's hard to see a road that does not lead to Posey eventually becoming a full-time first baseman. He's too valuable as San Francisco's clean-up hitter to risk losing for four months again. Plus, the Giants have impressive depth at a position that remains thin for most other clubs.
Felipe Alou, now special assistant to general manager Brian Sabean, marveled at the group of catchers around the cage toward noon Sunday.
"There's going to be a logjam here by 2013," he said.
Hitting in the group with Posey were three of the top 10 prospects in the Giants' system, as listed by Baseball America, all catchers: Tommy Joseph (20, No. 2), Andrew Susac (21, No. 6) and Hector Sanchez (22, No. 10). Bochy acknowledged Sunday that there is a chance that Sanchez, a switch-hitter, could make the club out of spring training if the Giants decide to go with three catchers.
"We have some good young catchers," Bochy said. "The best [group] I've ever seen."
As for Posey's future possibly being at first base instead of behind the plate, the manager acknowledged that "there is going to come a point where we will seriously discuss whether that's the right thing to do."
"The way I see it, I'm not going to lie," Posey said. "There were some thoughts for a couple of months [after the injury] that it would not be a bad move.
"But I enjoy catching. As hard as I've worked to come back, I want to catch as long as I can."
On a glorious Sunday, just being back on the field at any position was enough.
Now, the trick will be to stay there.