Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Boone hopes to be ready Opening Day

Third baseman's health is key for Reds

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Aaron Boone jumps rope as trainer Larry Soloff watches.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        SARASOTA, Fla. — When Aaron Boone took a baby step in his recovery from knee surgery Monday, it was cause for optimism among the Reds. But reality will have its say before the Reds leave spring training. And reality dictates that Boone still has significant hurdles to clear before he can reclaim his role as Cincinnati's regular third baseman. Whether that can happen by Opening Day remains uncertain.

        “You just continue to get over humps,” said Boone, whose lat est accomplishment was fielding ground balls while wearing cleats on grass for the first time. He also felt fine one day after an extensive Sunday workout, another positive sign. “I'm looking forward to that day when I'm over that final hump and it's just not a concern any more.”

        Right now, with pitchers and catchers due to report today, Boone is the embodiment of the Reds.

        His timely comeback from reconstructive surgery last Aug. 8 would help reverse the Reds' woeful luck with injuries in 2000, when the projected start ing lineup played just 14 games together. But a summer of setbacks would echo last season.

        Boone's importance to the team wasn't lost on manager Bob Boone, and not just because they're related. Bob Boone fully knows that his son was probably Cincinnati's most consistent player before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament last July 5.

        “He's going to be a big key to our club,” Bob Boone said. “While health is every (team's) concern, to me, if we're going to be a legitimate contender, we're going to have to stay very healthy.”

        Potential replacements for Boone include Juan Castro, Chris Sexton and Donnie Sadler. All lack Boone's offensive capabilities. After batting .280 with 14 homers and 72 RBI in Cincinnati's successful 1999 season, Boone was hitting .285 with 12 homers and 43 RBI in just 291 at-bats when he was injured last year.

        Brandon Larson, the Reds' 1997 first-round draft choice, does possess a third baseman's prowess at the plate. But he hasn't spent a day in the big leagues.

        If Aaron Boone has his way, such speculation will be moot. When Opening Day arrives, nearly eight months will have passed since his surgery. That juncture, other knee-surgery veterans have told him, is when an athlete begins feeling whole. Though Boone might not be ready for the exhibition opener March 1 against Cleveland, he could resume playing a week or two afterward.

        “I don't know because I haven't gone through certain tests, but I'm confident I'm going to be playing here early on in camp,” Boone said. “I'm really confident I'm going to be at or as close to 100 percent by the start of the season as you can be.”

        Said Lonnie Soloff, the Reds' physical therapist: “That (playing exhibition games) is obviously a goal of ours. We'll see what he's able to tolerate.”

        More will be known Wednesday when team physician Dr. Tim Kremchek and famed orthopedist Dr. James Andrews will examine Boone.

        Along with Barry Larkin (left knee) and outfielder Michael Coleman (left wrist), Boone is one of only three position players whose injuries allowed them to report early. Boone already has been in Florida working out for two weeks. And he spent his offseason in Cincinnati rehabilitating his knee.

        “It's not a lot of fun, that's for sure,” Boone said. “There are days when you're frustrated. At the same time, you enjoy it because of the challenge. There's no doubt in my mind — and I've felt this about other adversities — that when you come out of them, you're better for it.”


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