DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Just imagine what it would be like if you could no longer do something you'd done all your life. Something that defined you. Something that had shaped your entire world for as long as you could remember.
Just imagine what it would be like if your occupation was "pitcher" -- and then, twice in a span of eight months, you went to throw a baseball and your arm basically snapped.
Imagine the pain, physical and mental. The uncertainty. The questions you would ask yourself, not to mention your doctors and the people closest to you.
If you can imagine any of that, then you can imagine what it's been like to walk in the shoes of Gavin Floyd in the past two years.
"You know, life is not all cotton candy and ice cream cones," Floyd was saying this week, his arm back in one piece, with a big-league contract and a locker in the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse to remind him of that. "No matter who you are, you're going to go through stuff. So the more you can stay focused and enjoy what God's given you right now, and have an impact on people, then you can just enjoy the ride. And enjoy the people around you."
He's 33 now. It's 15 years since he was the fourth-overall pick in the 2001 draft, taken three picks after Joe Mauer and one pick ahead of Mark Teixeira. So not so long ago, he thought he'd just about seen it all and done it all. But little did he know what modern medicine would have in store for him just around the bend.
First came Tommy John surgery in May of 2013, which marked the end of a seven-year run with the Chicago White Sox. At the time, he thought that was a traumatic detour in his career. He had no idea, of course, what was awaiting him 13 months later.
It was June 13, 2014, his ninth big-league start after a seemingly routine Tommy John rehab. He was working on a two-hit shutout in Washington. And then, with no warning, he unfurled a curve ball to Jayson Werth to start the seventh inning. And the "pop" he felt was the olecranon bone in his elbow breaking, for no reason he or anyone else could fathom.
Imagine that happening. The thoughts racing through your head.
"I kind of had the mind-set that this could be it," Floyd found himself saying 21 months later. "I mean, any time you have major surgery, there's always that risk. So definitely, when you break it, you think: 'Man, am I going to be able to throw a baseball again?'"
But the doctors reassured him, inserted eight screws and a metal plate in his elbow and told him, "You'll be fine." As it turned out, though, he wouldn't be so fine.
Eight months later he went to camp last spring with the Cleveland Indians. He'd felt a little pain earlier in camp. But that was normal, he was told. Just part of the healing process. So in early March, he walked to the mound to do what pitchers do every spring to build arm strength and rediscover the rhythm of pitching -- throw a session of live batting practice. But then ...
"I threw a pitch, and it felt like [the bone] just released," Floyd said. "Then I threw another pitch, and it was just super painful. And I just said, 'It's time to shut it down.'"
Still, he tried to convince himself it was nothing. Routine stuff. Until he tried to throw again three days later, "and it was just excruciating pain."
But he'd been told along the way that pain was normal after a fracture. So he convinced himself that maybe this was only tendinitis, maybe this was no big deal, and if he could "just get through the pain," everything would be OK. Except it wouldn't.
He tried playing a little light catch, "at maybe 60-70 percent." Next thing he knew, his elbow had swelled up like a bowling ball. And the impossible had turned possible. He had broken that olecranon bone for the second time. That had really happened. To him.
"I kind of had the mindset that this could be it. I mean, any time you have major surgery, there's always that risk. So definitely, when you break [a bone in your elbow], you think: 'Man, am I going to be able to throw a baseball again?'"Gavin Floyd
Imagine having that happen. Your brain trying to process this moment, wondering how this could possibly be true, wondering if his body was trying to tell him something he didn't want to hear.
"The second time I fractured it, I was definitely thinking this could be it," Floyd said. "But then they told me, 'There are options.'"
So he went searching for those options. And one of the first things he did was phone Blue Jays reliever Steve Delabar, who had fractured this same bone in 2010 and eventually ground all the way back to make an All-Star team. Delabar offered enough encouragement that Floyd resolved he would try again.
Except this time, when he resumed throwing, "it was a night-and-day different experience," he said. "I had no pain at all. I felt locked in from the beginning."
Amazingly, fewer than than six months later, he was back in the big leagues with the Indians, trotting in on Sept. 2 to pitch the seventh inning in relief -- in Toronto, coincidentally enough. He buzzed through three hitters named Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, 1-2-3, on 15 pitches. And looked at what had just happened in a different light.
As he told this story in the Toronto clubhouse, even the guy at the next locker found himself paying rapt attention.
"Makes you not take it for granted, huh?" asked another walking comeback saga, Brad Penny.
"You definitely come back with a different perspective about things," Floyd replied. "Just an appreciation, for sure. They always talk about, 'Go out there like it's the last time you're going to throw [a baseball].'"
"You don't know," Penny interjected.
"Yeah," Floyd said. "Sometimes it's too late."
But luckily, it wasn't. Not for him. As he walked off the mound that day in Toronto, "it reminded me of my first time, of my debut," he said. "Kind of like a kid again.
"I remember my first warm-up throw ... was halfway up the backstop," Floyd went on. "My adrenaline was just really high. And I was like, 'All right, let's settle in.' But then I was able to go out there and do it. And it was definitely a mark in my career. Just real thankful to God to be able to throw again."
And now, he's just as thankful to have the chance the Blue Jays have given up. The new GM, Ross Atkins, and new team president, Mark Shapiro, both came from Cleveland and had a special feeling about him. So they gave him a one-year, $1-million big-league contract. Now the rest is up to him.
"The stuff is clearly still there," Atkins said. "The depth to his pitches, arm-speed, velocity, it's all there. They were all there at the end of last year. So now recovery and command are the only things left."
If Floyd shows this spring that he's healthy, the best-case scenario is that he becomes the Blue Jays' fifth starter. Or he could land in the bullpen, depending on how the rest of their staff shakes out.
But considering the way his world has spun during the past 21 months, the real triumph here is that Floyd has somehow regained the faith that he can throw a baseball again, and his arm will stay completely attached.
"Baseball is a love-hate relationship sometimes," he said, reflectively. "But this is a game. And life is way bigger than just this game. And life is short. I'm not trying to say to celebrate every moment. But be grateful and thankful for the days you are on this Earth."