"It's not how many times you get knocked down. It's about how many times you get up."
Former VCU Baseball star Scott Sizemore had heard that saying plenty of times growing up. What they don't tell you is just how hard it is to keep getting up when the hits seem like they won't stop coming. Sizemore knows that feeling all too well.
The Chesapeake, Va. native is in the midst of his first spring training with the New York Yankees. After a pair of career-threatening knee surgeries, it's an opportunity Sizemore wasn't sure would ever come.
"The last two years have been a challenge. The mental aspect of going through rehab is the hardest because there are many days you feel like giving up, but you just have dig deep and push yourself to be as good as you can on that given day," Sizemore said.
After tearing through the Detroit Tigers minor league system, Sizemore made his major league debut in 2010. He hit .224 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 48 games before being sent back to down Triple-A by the Tigers' brass.
It was the same story as Sizemore neared a .300 clip the rest of the year for Toledo. The following year, he burst out of the gates with the Mud Hens, hitting over .400 in the first month. That got him another call-up to Detroit, a chance that lasted 17 games.
A new opportunity came when the Tigers traded Sizemore to Oakland in 2011. He took advantage of that opportunity, hitting .248 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs for the A's.
He entered the 2012 spring training penciled in as the A's starting third baseman and was primed for a breakout season. That lasted one day. On the opening day of spring training, Sizemore tore his ACL and MCL in his left knee and missed the entire season.
Forced to watch the A's improbable playoff run, Sizemore was eager for the chance to help Oakland make it deeper into October in 2013.
After working his way back through rehab and earning chance to platoon at second base for the A's, Sizemore's 2013 season lasted just two games.
On April 9, in the fourth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels, Sizemore was playing second base when Angels' All-Star centerfield Mike Trout blooped a ball into short right field.
"I remember the play vividly. I was tracking the ball, and as I was about to reach for an over the shoulder catch, I thought I heard our right fielder call me off. By that time, I was already committed to the play, so I tried to break off my line and avoid a collision," Sizemore said. "As I planted my foot to peel off, my knee buckled inwards and I felt the joint slide."
Sizemore re-tore his left ACL. His 2013 season was over.
As much as Sizemore loves his wife Brooke, he wasn't ready to spend another season at home on crutches.
"After the injury, I went through a range of emotions over the next week, mostly feeling sad and disheartened. I had worked extremely hard to get back out on the field, and now I was back to square one. I thought many times about if I would ever get the chance to play professional baseball again."
"Behind every successful man, there's a great woman."
Despite his recent career misfortune, Sizemore feels lucky to have the support of the women in his life, Brooke and his daughter Layla.
"I wouldn't have made it through the past two years without the two of them," Sizemore said. "On those days I felt like giving up, they were there with words of encouragement to push me to work harder. Brooke never let me get away with doubting myself or my ability to play the game at the highest level."
After Sizemore suffered his second ACL tear in a 13-month stretch, he was straddled to crutches for several months, which isn't easy for most people, let alone people with infants at home.
"The injury really made things at home challenging because I couldn't really do much to help around the house since I was on crutches. I couldn't help around the house, I couldn't run errands, I couldn't try and walk Layla around to sooth her. Basically, I was limited to sitting on the couch and trying to rock her to sleep," Sizemore said. "I'm pretty sure that neither Layla or her mom were fond of me being injured during those first couple months."
Despite the months of rehab, Sizemore has seen a small silver lining.
"I'm extremely thankful that I was able to spend almost every day with my daughter the first year of her life. I know we wouldn't have bonded that way if I was on the road all summer," he said.
While they do put in hard work preparing for the next season, most major league players use the offseason to try and relax before the grind of a season kicks in. That wasn't the case for Sizemore.
"My offseason was pretty stressful. Once I cleared waivers and elected free agency, the hunt for a new team began. There were a lot of factors in find the right team for me, the most important being that the team understood my injury situation. I needed to find a place that would allow my knee to heel and be 100 percent before they put me out on the field. After that, the opportunity to get back to the big leagues was next on the check list. I'm extremely happy to get the chance to play again, but my goal is to be a major leaguer. I don't want to be content hanging around the minor leagues for a few months."
Position players reported to the Yankees' spring training site in Tampa on Feb. 19, and Sizemore is ready to get back to work.
"My body is feeling pretty good," he says. "I'm increasing my conditioning and workload every day to try and get my legs ready for a long year. There's still some work to do, but my body is responding well."
Sizemore made his spring training debut on Tuesday, March 4 in a win over the Orioles. He ripped a single in his second plate appearance, proving yet he's getting off the mat and ready to punch back.