Cruz in high spirits near halfway point of recovery

June 3rd, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Oneil Cruz's injury didn't damage his sense of humor in the slightest.

For the first time since fracturing his left ankle on April 9, Cruz spoke to reporters and discussed a myriad of topics, including his state of mind, his progress and his bobblehead's striking resemblance to himself.

“Yeah, they did it really good," Cruz said of his bobblehead through team interpreter Stephen Morales. "Ugly, like me."

Cruz had grand ambitions coming into his sophomore season. Following a rookie year in which he totaled 17 home runs and 10 steals in 87 games, he set his sights on joining the 30-30 or even the 40-40 club.

In the first game of the season, Cruz turned on a 101.3 mph four-seam fastball from Hunter Greene and sent it halfway up Great American Ball Park's right-field bleachers. The hype train rolled along. Soon, it would be temporarily derailed.

On April 9, Cruz awkwardly slid and crashed into White Sox catcher Seby Zavala, instantly falling to the ground and writhing in pain. After the game, manager Derek Shelton announced that Cruz had fractured his left ankle.

“You get hurt, and it's part of the game,” Cruz said. “You can't control that, and injuries happen in this game. I've tried to stay positive all the time and do my thing to get back at it.”

Following the game, two of the Pirates' elder statesmen held a team meeting to maintain spirits in the wake of the demoralizing injury. The same night, Cruz underwent surgery to address the fracture, as well as an injury to the syndesmosis joint in the ankle. The Pirates announced an expected return to action in four months.

“It feels good that it’s not season-ending, but that’s out of my control,” Cruz said. “I’m just leaving everything to the medical team. Whenever they think it’s going to be the time, it’ll be the time. I’ll be there.”

It's been eight weeks since Cruz's surgery. He is still using both crutches and a walking boot; he will use his crutches when he's not wearing the boot and vice versa. Per director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk, the Pirates expect Cruz to transition out of a walking boot and into a normal shoe starting next week.

"Everything right now has been normal on schedule, so once we get into baseball stuff and he's doing it, then I think that’s when everything comes into the test of any rehab situation," Shelton said. "In terms of his mindset, he’s great. He’s smiling, he wants to walk by my office and come sit down and now that [he's moving around better], it’s a lot easier for him to do it. He’s been in great spirits. It’s been great to see and fun to have him around."

Despite being unable to play, Cruz hasn't missed a game since his injury. He watched just about every inning of the Pirates' scintillating 20-9 start, as well as turbulent May in which they went 8-18. During games at PNC Park, Cruz's presence in the home dugout is not uncommon. Shelton pointed out that when injured players watch the game on the bench, they're able to point out intricacies of the game that they wouldn't notice in the heat of battle.

“I watch every game on TV,” Cruz said. “I miss it, for sure, but it makes me happy to see my guys out there competing and playing well.”

Added Shelton, “When you’re playing the game, you isolate at times on yourself. When you’re watching the game from the full scope, you see a lot more things."

During his downtime, Cruz has had the opportunity to spend time with his family, crediting them for helping him through the recovery process. Contradicting him, Cruz's wife and kids would likely have nicer things to say about both him and his bobblehead.

“Being around them helps a lot," Cruz said.