SARASOTA, Fla. — Nolan Reimold made an amazing transition over the past several months, though he probably didn't even notice.
He was out of sight and mostly out of mind while the Orioles were staging their surprising wild-card playoff run last year, recovering from extensive neck surgery and wondering if he would ever regain enough strength in his left shoulder to be the player who seemed to be blooming last April.
Now, as the Orioles begin preparing for a new season and a possible playoff encore, Reimold is far from being a forgotten man. He's the guy whose name comes up every time club officials try to explain why they did not acquire another quality hitter to bolster the middle of the lineup.
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- Nolan Reimold
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Ed Smith Stadium, 2700 12th Street, Sarasota, FL 34237, USA
If Reimold can replicate what he started to do before he got hurt last year, then he'll be that quality hitter.
If he can deliver the kind of power and on-base percentage that he has hinted at throughout his star-crossed major league career, Dan Duquette and the Orioles front office will look brilliant for not crowding him out of the picture with a big trade or an expensive free-agent acquisition.
Seems like a lot of weight to put on a guy who has a titanium plate in his neck, but Reimold wouldn't have it any other way.
"I want to be that guy,'' Reimold said Wednesday. "I know I was going to have a good year last year, so it's really tough to take when what happened happened, so I've been working the whole offseason. I've had a lot of time away from baseball. I'm trying to heal up, get my strength back, get into baseball activities and get back to what's normal for me."
There really hasn't been a lot of normal for Reimold, who battled his way through the Orioles minor league system and finally seemed ready to pop in 2009, when he hit .279 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs before being shut down to undergo surgery on a damaged Achilles tendon.
He tried to come back too soon the following season and struggled badly at the plate in 39 major league games. He started to regain his stroke in 2011 and looked like he had arrived last year, batting .313 with five homers and 10 RBI in 16 games before suffering a herniated disk in his neck that would require surgery in June.
Meanwhile, the Orioles were starting to look like they might be for real and all Reimold could do was watch from a distance while he waited for his vetebrae to fuse and his rehabilitation program to get underway. He watched the season build to a late-season crescendo and end with the Orioles' first playoff appearance since 1997, all the while wondering what might have been.
"It's one of those things that's bittersweet,'' Reimold said. "It was great to see the team doing well and everybody having success, but it's tough to watch it from the sidelines ... from the couch."
Fortunately, he had some distractions, which probably helped him keep the whole ordeal in perspective.
"I had kids at home, so I wasn't just sitting there,'' Reimold said. "I was always busy every day, not dwelling on anything. That was good to have, but I've got to feed my family, so I have to get back to work and get back to what I know how to do, so that was my motivation to come back and be better than what I was before."
So far, so good. Reimold took his first swings against live batting practice Tuesday and said he felt fine. He has worked hard to rebuild the strength in his shoulder and says he is close enough to 100 percent to take part in all baseball-related activities when full-squad workouts begin Saturday.
"I should be able to do everything,'' he said. "I think I'll be doing everything, barring something unforeseen. That's my plan, to be out there with no limitations and get to work."
He's already seen enough of the unforeseen, so he couldn't help but qualify that statement, but he said that he is not fatalistic and he has not allowed himself to wonder why so much has gone wrong over the past four years.
"No, I don't feel sorry for myself,'' he said. "I've been through too much. It's time to just have everything click and things go right. I've had a lot of experiences over the last few years and I'm ready to just play baseball."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.