Pham: 'I'm lucky to even be able to play'

March 1st, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- , as his teammates and friends will eagerly tell you, is a bit of a baseball geek. He spends hours poring over data and video. He barely lets a moment go by without loading his hands into a mock batting stance, searching for the right feel.

"Tommy's a funny dude," said Blake Snell, his teammate with the Rays and now in San Diego as well. "He just wants to talk baseball -- all day long."

In the scariest fashion possible this offseason, Pham almost had the sport he loves so dearly taken from him. That was at the forefront of his mind as he was being rushed to a hospital after he was the victim of a stabbing incident in San Diego in October.

"I'm lucky," Pham said Sunday, speaking publicly for the first time since. "I'm lucky to even be able to play."

Pham, who started in left field against the Mariners on Sunday in the Padres' first Spring Training game of 2021, couldn't comment on the specifics of the incident, as there is an ongoing investigation, but he spoke about how lucky he felt to be alive and to be able to play baseball.

In the hours after he was stabbed in the lower back, Pham received word on the extent of the injury. He would require surgery and more than 100 stitches to heal the wound. He would require intense rehab over the offseason. Doctors told him his extra muscle may have saved his life or prevented significant damage.

But he would be able to play again -- and he might not even miss any time.

"My time wasn't quite yet," Pham said.

First and foremost, he was grateful for his health. He doesn't take that for granted. But it wasn't long before Pham's focus turned to baseball, where he has business to take care of after a poor 2020 season.

Pham put it bluntly: "I had a terrible year."

In Pham's defense, it was -- without question -- the most turbulent year of his career, even before the October stabbing incident.

Pham missed the start of Summer Camp last year with COVID-19. He dealt with forearm trouble in the early stages of the season, then underwent surgery to address a broken hamate bone. In the offseason, he had another operation on his wrist, which he hopes will put those arm troubles in the past for good.

In 31 games last season, he batted just .211 with a .624 OPS -- numbers well below his career averages. Pham, a student of advanced metrics, looked beyond those numbers and didn't like what he saw.

"I know analytics with the best of 'em," he said. "My wRC+ was down. That's something I look at. I was negative in defensive runs saved last year. ... I feel like I have the most to prove, because I know I'm not a 78 wRC+ hitter, and I know I'm not a negative defensive player."

He has incentive to prove it this season. It's a contract year for Pham, who can become a free agent after the 2021 season. But first, he wants to take care of business with the Padres -- who, despite his injury concerns, agreed on an $8.9 million contract with him in his final arbitration year.

As Pham recovered -- making weekly trips to San Francisco for treatment, while undergoing extensive rehab in San Diego -- he watched as general manager A.J. Preller overhauled the team around him. Preller even called Pham for his "two cents" on Snell, and Pham pushed hard for a trade.

With a revamped roster around him, Pham is already setting his sights squarely on a World Series.

"We have so much expectations this year -- to do better, and go further," Pham said. "We're all pulling for that ultimate goal."