Coco Crisp goes through a little bit of hell every day just to continue playing baseball, but it could be worse. He could have opted for surgery to try and correct bulging disk issues in his neck, the same kind of surgery that apparently will prematurely end the career of Texas Rangers slugger Prince Fielder.
Fielder had cervical fusion surgery in May of 2014 between two disks in his neck and required the same surgery again on July 29 just above the previous surgical area. Fielder, who is signed through 2020 and still owed a ton of money, hasn’t announced his retirement but it appears he will not be able to receive clearance from doctors to play again. A press conference is scheduled for Wednesday in Arlington, Texas, to clarify Fielder’s future.
Crisp has watching and listening from afar, feeling considerable sadness for Fielder even though he said he doesn’t really know him personally. He has dealt with the same kind of neck issues and contemplated surgery last year before deciding against it.
“I’m playing with two bulging disks in my neck right on top of each other right now, so of course, I sympathize with everything (Fielder) is going through,” Crisp said. “It’s tough. Anybody’s who’s ever woken up with a crick in their neck and tried to go about their day – driving a car, turning to look to change lanes, simple stuff like that – it’s tough. I can understand what he’s dealing with.”
Crisp, 36, is four years older than Fielder, and since he’s slipping behind the 550 plate appearance/130 games vesting option pace for 2017 ($13 million), he’s probably looking at being a free agent at the end of the year. Translation: He isn’t quite sure what the future holds for him, either. But he was feeling more pain for Fielder on this day, lamenting that the first baseman’s career is probably being cut short well before his time.
“Sometimes your body just tells you that it’s probably time to shut it down,” Crisp said. “Rarely is anybody ready. Either the team tells you that it’s over or your body tells you that it’s over, but only a few guys are able to go out on their own terms. He could have been one of those guys – obviously, he’s a great player — but it’s just the body. I definitely understand the decision process he’s going to have to go through.”
Crisp’s decision not to have surgery last year when his own neck issues were at their worst clearly proved to be wise. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deal with some measure of pain on a daily basis, not to mention the fear of re-injury that could cause even more serious permanent damage than he already has incurred.
In a surprising admission, Crisp detailed what he has to do to continue playing baseball in the majors.
“I take probably three muscle relaxers a day and then drink some Red Bull to combat that and get some energy to go out there and play,” he said.
How many Red Bulls does he drink?
“As many as it takes,” he said.
He confessed that the muscle relaxers make him drowsy, so he has an array of antidotes.
“They say no driving when you take them, but I’m going out there and playing baseball,” he said. So I’ve got my caffeine pills, my No-Doz and my Red Bulls, and I just get out there and get after it.”
Crisp fully understands the risks with his own particular neck issue and said he now takes certain precautions he never would have considered earlier in his career.
“With mine, there’s a small chance that sliding head-first or running into another player, anything substantial like that, I could paralyze myself and damage not only the rest of my life but that of my family members,” he said. “So you try to take that into consideration when you go do some things in the game.
“It’s tough, because for me personally, I’m accustomed to playing a certain way – banging into walls and crashing into bases, things that throughout my career I’ve never been afraid to do. But now you have to deal with the potential effects for the remainder of your life. So when I go back on a ball now, I try to check the wall and defend my neck at the same time. It makes it a little harder when you have to think about a couple things instead of just running into the wall and catching the ball. It is what it is. It’s not going to go away. You just try to manage it.”
Crisp has played in 89 of the A’s 113 games and he’s had a fair season – 23 doubles, 10 home runs, 44 runs scored and 45 RBIs although he’s hitting just .239 with a .309 on-base percentage. Perhaps more telltale to how he’s altered his game on the basepaths. He has just six steals in 10 attempts.
After games, he admitted he takes his neck issues home with him.
“It’s tough sleeping at night … it is what it is,” he said. “I don’t really talk about it that much because I don’t like to talk about injuries.”
But seeing Fielder’s situation, he couldn’t help but express his empathy.
“I know he’s had to make adjustments to try to be successful outside of his comfort zone and in that box, because I’ve had to make them,” he said. “Stepping early in your swing, little changes like that, make a significant difference.”
But at least Crisp is playing. Particularly as he looks at what Fielder now faces, he is incredibly grateful he still can.