MESA, Ariz. -- Never take things for granted.
“There were moments when it was scary, like you just don’t know,” Souza told MLB.com. “You have setbacks. You don’t feel right.”
Souza missed the entire 2019 season after suffering one of the most devastating injuries in baseball, tearing his left ACL and LCL, as well as partial tears in his PCL and posterior lateral capsule while slipping on home plate during an exhibition game on March 25, 2019.
After undergoing surgery to repair his injuries, the real work for Souza began, as he would have to rebuild his body to even have a chance at getting back on the field.
“I was just talking to the guy who rehabbed me, Charles Maka,” he said. “I was like, ‘I really don’t think people know how much work I put in.’ [I’ve been] doing two-a-days pretty much since the day I got hurt, trying to get my knee strength back.”
Building back strength not only in the knee, but the surrounding muscles was a crucial goal for Maka and the EVO UltraFit staff as they created a program for Souza's rehab. Over the next 11 months throughout the long, grueling process, he would see steady progression.
“Every month it got a little bit better,” he said. “You know with my faith and my family, they were able to help me push through to this moment. I honestly feel 100 percent back to normal. Which is a miracle in itself.”
Souza, who stands 6-foot-4, has always relied on power from his lower half to drive the ball. He’s hit 70 home runs over five Major League seasons, including a career high 30 homers with the Rays in 2017. Even though a successful rehab process got him swinging the bat again just six months after surgery, there was a possibility he’d have to adjust his game.
“I think that question in my head hovered a lot. ‘Am I going to have to be a different guy? Am I going to pepper the ball over the yard? Am I going to be able to drive it out?,’ he said. “ Six months out of surgery, I was driving the ball. When I hit that mark and saw the exit velo and the ball leaving the yard, it was peace of mind.
“[Power] was obviously a big test of mine. Getting my quad strength back was huge and in my hamstring. We have the lab here [in Mesa, Ariz.] and we were testing [on] the force plates and how much force I’m putting into the ground. I tested it and it was awesome. It was back to normal.”
The Cubs are also betting that Souza is back to normal as the team signed him to a one-year deal in January. The 30-year-old outfielder is now in the mix in the Cubs' outfield and can provide some pop from the right side of the plate.
“He came in in great shape and is definitely moving well,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I’m just trying to communicate with the trainers as he communicates with them.
“We gotta make sure these guys get their legs under them, and [with] a guy that hasn’t gotten many at-bats and misses a year, you’re looking for timing at the plate, you’re looking for what their jump is on the baseball, how they’re moving on the bases.”
“I owe it all to EVO and all they’ve done. [My surgeon] Dr. Timothy Kremchek for what he did,” Souza said. “Everybody has done such an amazing job in this rehab and I’m reaping the benefits of that.”