By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
BRADENTON — It’s hard to imagine a player who’s had worse luck than Tampa Bay Rays’ infielder Ryan Brett.
Five shoulder injuries alone are pretty unlucky.
Add Tommy John surgery to the list, and that’s quite unfortunate.
That’s not even the start of things for Brett, who needed hernia surgery in early 2013 after complications from kidney-removal surgery.
“I’d just have pain in my side, and I didn’t really know what it was,” Brett said. “Every time I went to the doctors, they told me it was just an oblique strain or what not.”
Brett came to Port Charlotte in November of 2012 for winter development and the pain in his side was still an issue. The team sent him to a doctor, and after running some tests, they found out his kidney wasn’t functioning properly and there was a blockage, as well.
Since the issue caused him as much pain as it did, surgery was suggested.
“That was the first surgery I ever had,” said Brett, who has five hits with a home run and three RBI in 12 at-bats this spring. “Once it was over, I wasn’t going to have the pain in my side anymore, which was relieving.”
He’s had a few more surgeries since then, with No. 2 coming just two months after the kidney. In fact, it was the kidney surgery that led to the hernia surgery.
Brett ate a couple of apple slices the night of the kidney removal, and because of the effects of anesthesia, the apples didn’t stay down. He says he felt like he tore something that night and it looked like he had a baseball popping out of his side.
The 25-year-old had one shoulder injury prior to that point, but has since added four more. His fifth and final shoulder injury might be the worst luck of all.
Brett made his MLB debut on April 18, 2015. He collected his first big-league hit – a double – the next night, and on April 21, he made his first career start.
“It was a dream come true,” he said. “When I first got the call, I didn’t really even know what to do with myself. It was the experience of a lifetime.”
That experience didn’t last very long. In that April 21 game, Brett hit a single against Boston pitcher Wade Miley. With Brett leading from first, Miley attempted to pick off Brett, who dislocated his injury-prone shoulder while diving back.
“It wasn’t the best feeling,” he said. “I’d been battling a shoulder since 2011, and I couldn’t believe it came out on me again that early in the season.”
Somehow Tommy John surgery in the beginning of 2016 is just a footnote in Brett’s story.
A strain in his forearm during spring training never got better, and he missed the entire 2016 season.
Of all those setbacks, there was one, Brett had control of.
In August of 2012, Brett was suspended for 50 games for violating baseball’s drug prevention and treatment program. He tested positive for methamphetamines and an amphetamine.
According to a press release by his agent at the time, it was due to taking a drug called Adderall (prescribed for people with attention deficit disorder) just one time, which he had been led to believe was a caffeine pill when he took it.
“I was young at the time,” Brett said. “It was something stupid I shouldn’t have done. Looking back on that, I think it just made me more grown up. You pretty much only have one chance, but I’ve had a lot of chances with all that (injury) stuff.”
After repeated freak injuries, organ failure and a suspension, what keeps Brett going to the pursue the dream of being a Major League Baseball player?
“The teammates, having fun playing the game. It’s fun being out there. Having a relationship with these guys,” Brett said. “Everything about it is awesome and after having all those surgeries, you don’t take it for granted. Just trying to have fun playing this game as long as I can. It can pass you by pretty quick.