A 35-year-old veteran rarely gets caught up in the daily ups and downs of a grinding 162-game season. Sometimes it takes an injury for a player to realize how much fun he was having.
In the case of Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis, who has been sidelined since May 19 by a leg injury, it felt good to simply be playing again, even if it was at the team's Class-A affiliate in Rancho Cucamonga and not at Dodger Stadium.
"I felt like a normal ballplayer again and it feels good for four games to jump back into big league baseball," Ellis said after the final game of his rehabilitation assignment Tuesday.
He was activated by the Dodgers on Wednesday and entered as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds. He finished the game at second and is expected to start Thursday against the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
Before being activated, Ellis said the focus was on the three remaining months of the regular season as he put the last six weeks behind him.
"I was having fun and we were winning a lot of ballgames," Ellis said. "It was really tough, because it's as much fun as I've had in a long time. We had some years in Oakland where we weren't very good, and right away we were playing well and it was a lot of fun."
Ellis, who was injured May 18 when St. Louis' Tyler Greene sent him tumbling after a collision at second base, underwent a fasciotomy that team physician Neal ElAttrache said might have saved his leg since the muscle could have died if surgery had been delayed several more hours.
"I was in the hospital for five days when they said that and I had heard a lot about it when I came out, but I have no idea," Ellis said on the chances of losing his leg. "If we were on a getaway day in St. Louis and not playing, things probably could've been pretty bad, but with the medical staff we have here they caught it and it's fine."
For a team that relies heavily on pitching and strong defense, the significance of losing a flawless glove cannot be overplayed. Ellis did not commit an error in 37 games, and his replacements botched six plays in 45 contests during his absence.
The veteran was also no slouch at the plate for the Dodgers, who were a major league-best 27-13 at the time of his injury. Ellis accumulated a .373 on-base percentage with 27 runs while batting second in the order.
"We're getting our guys back, so we're going to be fine," he said of sluggers Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier returning from injury after the All-Star break. "It's a lot harder to watch when the team's not playing well than when the team's playing well. You don't know if you'd make a difference or not, but you feel like you would."