By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — This offseason was not your typical winter for Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr.
His normal routine wasn’t just interrupted by hip-surgery recovery, but he and his wife Mikaela had their first child Micah Stanley on Dec. 15.
“It was just in time where I could start to move around and walk,” Souza said. “It turned out great.”
Surgery for the 27-year-old ended what was his second full MLB season, where he hit .247 with 49 RBI, 17 doubles and 17 home runs in 120 games.
“This will be the big test,” he said. “You can’t really train for the adrenaline of a game.”
It was the second time in 2016 he found himself on the disabled list, and the fifth time total, playing in parts of three MLB seasons. Previous trips to the DL included a hand and shoulder injury.
Of all his injuries, Souza says it was the shoulder which hurt the most.
When he was with the Washington National in 2014, he was playing right field behind pitcher Stephen Strasburg with Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman at the plate.
Freeman smoked a line drive earmarked for the stands. When Souza attempted to rob Freeman’s home run, he mistimed his jump.
“He hit a rocket over my head, I tried to go back and make a play, and I didn’t get up high enough,” Souza recalled. “My shoulder went straight into the metal part of the fence.”
That DL stint for the shoulder injury, plus two in 2015 and the first one in 2016, all happened during the season. It wasn’t until season-ending hip surgery on Sept. 23 when Souza was forced to completely alter his normal offseason routine.
“It was a lot of work,” he said. “A lot of monotonous and tedious work that at some points you feel like you’re not getting anywhere.”
He was only one DL stint into his career when the Rays acquired him via a three-team trade, which sent Wil Myers to the San Diego Padres. Tampa Bay also received its current No. 4 prospect Jake Bauers in the deal.
Souza says he’s thankful to be with the Rays.
“This place has been great to me,” he said. “Great coaches and great teammates. I have an opportunity to play everyday. I can’t ask for more than that.”
Although, he considers the highlight of his career to be in 2014 with the Nationals when they made it to the playoffs.
“(That) was one of the coolest things, being part of the playoffs atmosphere in my first year,” Souza said.
Current Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmerman might have a difference response for the highlight of Souza’s career.
When they were both with the Nationals, it was an incredible diving catch made by Souza with two outs in the ninth inning to preserve Zimmerman’s no-hitter.
“I was just trying to make a play out there,” Souza said. “It all happened really fast. I remember seeing the ball in the air and thinking I had no chance. When I caught it, the crowd erupted and it was one of the coolest moments I’ve experienced on the field.”
Souza will play in his first game of the spring later today as the Rays host the Philadelphia Phillies.