SAN FRANCISCO -- Ever the optimist with his bold personality and bushy black beard, Giants closer Brian Wilson deemed himself ahead of schedule in his recovery from a second Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery and insists he plans to be ready for Opening Day next season.
That would be defying the odds for an operation that typically has a recovery time of 18 months to two years -- and can be a much more difficult or longer process when it's done twice on the same arm. Still, Wilson is trying to be patient. He planned to ride a stationary bike Wednesday for the first time since his April 19 surgery, performed in Florida by Dr. James Andrews.
A ligament from his leg was used in his elbow, so Wilson has to be careful with any exercise at this stage. He spoke for the first time since his procedure in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday at his locker before San Francisco opened a quick two-game series against the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
"I've had it done before; I know what to expect," Wilson said, noting he is staying upbeat. "I don't really have room for negativity in my life. Early on you could think of all the negative things that hinder you, but if you keep focusing on negativity, then that's exactly what you'll produce. So I try to think more positively, and surround myself with teammates like I have that are very positive and are going to help me heal well. And I think I've got an entire city behind my back."
Wilson is charting pitches to help out his teammates and learn tendencies himself. He is learning to use his left hand to do jobs such as lay carpet and hang televisions, challenging himself with 2,000-piece puzzles. He'd rather be pitching, of course, but knows that time will come -- and, he points out, "I'm 30 and I've got a new arm. That's pretty awesome." He even believes he might throw harder now.
"I've had to find some hobbies, that's for sure. I've had a lot of time on my hands," Wilson said. "I've just done everything, pretty much. Can't play video games 'cause I don't want to mess up my forearm, but I've done a lot of puzzles."
"Anywhere from like crosswords, riddles, and mostly just puzzle pieces," he said. "Start off with a nice 500 piece and go from there. Did the Taj Mahal. It was 2,000 pieces, pretty excited about that."
The hard-throwing right-hander also had the surgery, done by Andrews, while in college at LSU in 2003. On Sunday, he plans to get in the broadcast booth with Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper. Also Sunday, 25,000 fans will receive a Wilson garden gnome.
"I don't gnome what you're talking about," Wilson quipped. "I kind of like it. He's pretty tan. Not really in shape. We wear the same hats, obviously. It'll be pretty fun. Hopefully I can get one. I think I'm on the list."
The 30-year-old closer led the majors with 48 saves in 2010, and recorded the final out in Game 5 of the World Series at Texas to clinch the franchise's first championship since moving West in 1958.
The three-time All-Star complained of discomfort in the elbow on April 13. That was a day after Wilson threw 32 pitches at Colorado while working on back-to-back days.
Wilson finished 6-4 with a 3.11 ERA and 36 saves in 57 appearances last season, held out down the stretch as a precaution. He had taken all of the important steps in his rehab this spring, so the injury caught everybody by surprise.
He now hopes to surprise everyone with a speedy return -- and Wilson isn't afraid to make lofty projections.
"No, it's not too early for that -- Opening Day," he said. "I'll be closing it out. Unless someone throws a complete game, which would be pretty sweet, too. I don't imagine doing any rehab starts. I'll be here for spring training. Throw my 12, 13 innings probably. I'll be here day one. That's my choice, obviously. I don't know what they want. I'm sure they'd like that. I would definitely argue for that, provided I prove all the necessary progressions. Of course."
While the Giants would be surprised to see Wilson ready by Opening Day next spring, they know he might just be the guy to pull it off.
"I wouldn't rule it out with Willie and his work ethic," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I'm sure he's going to be religious with the rehab. I can't say it's not going to happen. It's not something I thought would happen on Opening Day, but hopefully it does happen."
For now, he will keep on his rigorous rehab program and occupy himself with the other activities he has found to take his mind off missing the mound.
"The biggest puzzle I'm currently doing is my life, which isn't over yet," Wilson said.