Chavez not ready to call it a career
Third baseman working out, hoping to return to A's
Eric Chavez remembers it well, that June weekend in San Francisco when he told himself he was ready for a Minor League rehab assignment.
It was a Saturday, about three weeks after being placed on the disabled list with neck spasms as a result of two bulging disks. He dressed in the visitors' clubhouse, headed for the cages, watched his teammates drop an Interleague matchup and went on his way.
The next day, his locker was empty.
Chavez never embarked on that rehab assignment. He went home -- to Arizona.
"That day in San Francisco," he says, "I was the one who was kind of pushing that rehab assignment, and it was probably a little bit too soon. But I wanted to give it a shot. Once I was there at the ballpark, I thought, 'Wow, this is not going to work out right now.' I literally couldn't swing a bat. "
Before the season even started, many -- Chavez included -- thought maybe it wasn't going to work out at all, that his playing days were well past him, that taking part in the 2010 season was something of a pipe dream.
So when news spread of Chavez's trip to Arizona, rather than to the club's Triple-A ballpark in Sacramento, those same thoughts returned. He's done, most figured.
"With my neck, just the way I felt," he said, "I thought, 'This is it.' I definitely, at that point, thought I might have played my last game in a baseball uniform."
Two months have passed, and Chavez still admits retirement may be in his near future. After all, he's still in Arizona, where 108-degree weather shines over his family's home on a daily basis.
"I wasn't supposed to be here during this time of year," he says with a laugh.
A week ago, he watched his eldest son, Diego, march into kindergarten. And back at the house, he and his wife, Alex, keep plenty busy with the tireless duo of Dolce, 2, and Cruz, 1.
"It's been pretty peaceful," he says. "I always cherish all those family moments I get to have while I'm here."
As Chavez speaks via phone, his kids can be heard in the background. They're splashing around in the pool, he says. Such is another day for the 32-year-old father of three in Paradise Valley, Ariz., where, for the past two months, the A's have said Chavez is simply "resting."
He is, but he's also been working out feverishly, and he's days away from swinging a bat again. That's right, retirement can wait for now -- at least until he knows, one final time, his body can do no more.
"I don't know if I'll every play again, I really don't," Chavez says. "But I'm going to try. I'm not going to get on any type of official schedule. My goal is to be back in Oakland by September. It may be in uniform, it may be out of uniform. I'm not really sure yet. But I've been working out and, physically, I'm feeling really good. I'm just going to start trying to do some baseball activities and see what happens. But, I'm literally going to take it day by day and not put a stamp on a plan."
He's done with plans, at least the type involving scheduled rehab assignments and a potential return date. His only plan, for the time being, is going about his daily routine without a plan -- something the A's organization, he insists, has "been very cool about."
"Oakland has just made it as easy as possible for me, and it's really helped out," he says. "They've given me the time and space to get healthy, really. That's their main concern for me. They told me, 'You've been through so much, so just do what you've got to do to live a normal life and be healthy.' They put no pressure on me whatsoever."
LEAVING HIS MARK
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He was once the golden boy of the franchise, literally, by racking up Gold Gloves at third base while providing a large dose of pop now missing in a rather lackluster A's lineup. He knows he can't be that guy anymore, but he's also not willing to hang up No. 3 just yet.
"I'm going to start doing baseball activity with the hope of returning, but that can get squashed at any second when I take a swing," he said. "If I feel the way I felt in San Francisco, I'm probably not going to be back in Oakland. But, if it goes well and things progress, if they have a spot, I'll try to be back on the team.
"If, along the road, it doesn't work out, nobody's going to be disappointed. Nobody expects me to play. Still, for me, I'm not ready to call it a career yet. There's a part of me that wants to give it a chance and see what's there."
Much of that mindset has come from reaching out to guys like former teammate Mark Mulder, who also wrestled back and forth on the retirement front before finally deciding he could no longer take to the mound at the Major League level.
"Every single one of them has said to keep going, to keep going until you know that it's completely over," Chavez said. "That's really helped out. I think Mark got to the point where he said, 'I can't do this anymore. It's not worth it.' It's a tough decision to make. Retiring might be the smart thing for me to do, but I'm just not ready to decide."
Only time will tell if Chavez's career takes a small step forward or a permanently large step back. Both prospects obviously present outcomes on two very different spectrums, but this 12-year veteran is ready to finally know which direction he needs to take.
"I hope to be back there one way or another pretty soon here, either in uniform or just for moral support," he said. "I'm really looking forward to that."
If in uniform, he'll know right away whether -- again -- he's up for the challenge.
"Even when I was playing earlier this year," he said, "I felt like I was just wrestling with a 400-pound gorilla the whole time I was hitting. It just wasn't happening.
"I've really worked hard on stabilizing and rehabbing my shoulder and my trap area, and I'm kind of hoping that when I pick up a bat and start to face live pitching, I can see a huge improvement. But, until I do that, I don't want to say I'm coming back to play or I'm not coming back to play."
Either way, he'll continue keeping tabs on the team that drafted him in the first round out of high school in 1996, the team that groomed him into one of Oakland's finest, the team that watched him climb the ranks among the top 10 in nearly every offensive category on Oakland's career lists.
"I'm a baseball junkie," he said, laughing. "I'm watching a baseball game right now. That's just what I do. I love watching baseball. Being on the outside looking in right now, I've become more of a fan of it."
There's a sense of calmness abounding Chavez, who is admittedly ready to take the retirement route if need be.
"Obviously, I've been home for the past two years, so it's definitely changed my perspective," he said. "As difficult as it is being away from the game, being able to see some of the things I know a lot of guys are missing in their families' lives, I'm thankful for the second-best situation I can have."
At the same time, despite the possibility of soon facing that next step in his life, he still eagerly wants to fulfill his current one.
"If I feel like things aren't working out, I guess I'll have to think about things then," Chavez said. "But, I'm really not sure. I've definitely thought about retirement, but I'm not ready to commit to that yet. When I can't physically get any work done on the baseball field, I know I'm going to have to really consider it, but I'm going to try to play to the end and give myself every chance to play baseball.
"I'm at that point where I'm not ready to make that decision, so that tells me I'm going to keep going."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.