Lewis leads by example, and Rangers love him for it
Veteran hurler, key member of pennant-winning clubs, attempting comeback
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When teammates and friends watch Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis walk these days, they have a better understanding of how much pain he has endured the past few years.
"And he was starting and winning World Series games," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said.
Lewis couldn't actually walk, at least not the way most of us think of walking. He sort of dragged his left leg along, slinging it around the side of his body.
Lewis had done this for so long that a lot of people barely even noticed. And then last summer, the pain became too much. Only after he gave into the pain and underwent a complicated surgical procedure did the reality of his toughness and resolve begin to sink in.
"You talk about guts, courage, all those things," Daniels said. "There's something just a little different about that guy. You pull a little extra for guys like that."
Doctors resurfaced the ball of Lewis' left hip, removing a series of bone spurs, including one of more than two inches, and installed a slick new artificial surface.
Months of rehabilitation followed. Now, for the first time in years, Lewis is walking normally and without pain.
"Well, sometimes I'll get up and my wife will yell, 'Walk normally,'" he said.
It's at moments like that when Lewis will remember that the pain has gone away, that he feels normal and that he really can walk like everyone else.
Let's be clear about the relationship between Colby Lewis and the Texas Rangers. They love this guy.
"He's one of the best teammates I've ever had," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "He's that guy that comes to work every day and does his job. Never complains. Just does his job."
When Rangers manager Ron Washington is asked about Lewis, he has a one-word answer.
"Character," he said.
Lewis is a reminder that championship clubs are complicated things, that they're living, breathing organisms. Texas wouldn't have won back-to-back American League pennants in 2010 and '11 without big performances from a bunch of people, including Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and C.J. Wilson.
The Rangers wouldn't have won without Lewis, either. He won 26 games and pitched 401 innings in those two seasons, and went 4-1 in eight postseason starts. But Lewis brought something else to the table, something harder to measure but something that every single member of those teams will tell you matters.
Lewis poured his heart and soul into winning games, fighting through pain and injury. As Texas brought talented young guys like Derek Holland and Matt Harrison to the big leagues, Lewis showed them the way. Only now do they fully understand the sacrifice he was making.
The Rangers have no idea if Lewis, 34, can come back from this latest surgery. If he does, he'll be the first to play Major League Baseball after having it.
Lewis also underwent elbow surgery last summer and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since the middle of the 2012 season. There was enough doubt about his ability to return in 2014 that he was signed to a Minor League deal and given a chance to compete for a spot.
Asked if Lewis had to talk the Rangers into signing him, Daniels said, "Oh no, it was the other way around."
"We want Colby to be here all year," Washington said.
Lewis' career is the stuff of movies. He underwent Tommy John surgery in high school and made a complete recovery.
"You hear that Tommy John high school guys don't make it," Daniels said. "Colby made it."
Texas took Lewis in the first round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. He got to the Majors in 2002, and after three seasons and a 6.83 ERA, he began a strange odyssey. Lewis spent time with four organizations, underwent rotator cuff surgery, and then, in 2008, packed his wife, Jenny, and young son off to Japan, where he spent two seasons essentially reinventing himself.
When Lewis returned in 2010, at age 30, he'd morphed into the real deal, winning 32 games and pitching 506 innings over the next three seasons. He got the Opening Day start for the two-time defending American League-champion Rangers in 2012.
Lewis lasted until his elbow began to scream, then underwent surgery to repair that problem, and just as he was recovering, the chronic hip and back pain became too much.
Lewis is encouraged that he's back on a mound, able to throw free and easy, without pain. He has to do some major work to overhaul his mechanics to account for a longer stride, but so far, so good.
"My body adapted to not having any range," Lewis said. "Now I have range. Now it's got to adapt back. It's a process. Hopefully, the process is quicker and we can put up some good results and make the club. Everything feels great. The ball feels great out of my hand. It's just the inconsistencies at the other end. I hit it good one spot, and the next time, I'll be off by six or eight inches."
Lewis shrugs off questions about the bigger picture, about the respect he's held in within the organization and the lessons he has shown people about resolve and sacrifice. All part of a day's work.
"You just want to do things right," Lewis said. "As the old saying goes, you want to treat people the way you want to be treated. That's the way I look at it. It goes both ways. I want to give the Rangers what I've got left. You dealt with what you've been dealt. I've been blessed to continue to play this game. I'll be 35 this season, and to be able to play this long and have the surgeries I've had and to put some good money in the bank for my family, God's blessed me in plenty of ways."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.