Roman Quinn of the Phillies thought his career was over. A year later, he’s back, still going strong. | MLB

May 4 – The two-hour drive on the highway in North Florida was long enough for the doubts – the ones Roman Quinn tried to fight for months – to set in.

He tore his left Achilles tendon last May, rehabilitated with the Phillies until they dropped him in December, then had to find his own physical therapist during baseball’s three-month lockdown . Quinn’s career had been marred by injuries, and this last one had been a blow.

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Without a team for the first time since the Phillies drafted him in 2011, Quinn drove three days a week from his home in Port St. Joe to Tallahassee and wondered if this was it.

“That thought often crossed my mind,” Quinn said. “I kept trying to push him away, but it kept coming to mind. Just because speed is a big part of my game and this is my second Achilles injury, I was like: “There’s no way I can come back and run like me.'”

Quinn was unsure if he would be picked up by a team when the lockout was lifted or if he would even be ready to play when it did. He didn’t know if he would be able to complete his rehabilitation without the help of a big league coaching staff or if his feet would ever move as fast as they did.

“All of these thoughts came to mind,” Quinn said.

Just as he found a way to overcome injury after injury, Quinn pushed those doubts aside and kept churning.

The 28-year-old outfielder returned to the majors last week, playing for the Phillies less than a year after suffering an injury he says could have derailed his career. And his speed was as fast as a year ago.

“It was tough, but I made my way through it,” Quinn said. “I am so happy.”

familiar feeling

Quinn knew right away last May when he was lying near home plate in Tampa that he had torn his left Achilles tendon. He fell around third base, bounced off his right leg, collapsed into the dirt after scoring, and was carried off the field.

Eight years ago, Quinn had torn her right Achilles tendon and that feeling was something you don’t forget. He diagnosed himself before a doctor could examine him.

Just 20 years old when he suffered his first Achilles tendon injury, Quinn was also two years away from being a second-round pick. He knew this injury would be different, as he was 28 and entering his first year of salary arbitration.

Quinn’s game is all about speed, and an Achilles injury is a perfect recipe for taking it away. This is how the doubts made their way.

Six days a week for the next seven months at the Phillies’ complex in Clearwater, Florida, Quinn rehabilitated under the supervision of the team’s athletic training staff. He was not submitted (the Phils refused to offer him salary arbitration) a day before the lockout, became a free agent and was on his own to complete his recovery.

Quinn spent three days a week in Tallahassee for physical therapy and the rest of the week at her old high school in Port St. Joe. Quinn has worked with Keion McNair, Port St. Joe High School athletics coach, since she was a teenager. They practiced in the Florida sun on the school track, about a five-minute walk from Quinn’s house.

McNair watched the video of Quinn running and saw how her heel hit the ground first, putting pressure on her Achilles. They revamped Quinn’s running motion, strengthened his leg muscles and changed his diet to a mostly vegan diet.

In February, Quinn’s 40-yard sprint was clocked at 4.3 seconds. McNair said he had no doubts Quinn would recover from his injury, but his quick recovery was still surprising.

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“His work ethic has been the same since he was in high school — above,” McNair said. “But now I want him to stay healthy throughout the season. He’s a hard worker, and you don’t see too many athletes that you don’t have to worry about. If you put it ahead of him, he’s going to work hard to get where he needs to be.”

The injury, Quinn said, didn’t just take a physical toll. It was even more mentally taxing. Injuries prevented him from playing a full season of professional ball, but he continues. McNair introduced Quinn to meditation and breathing techniques and reminded him to simply control what he can control.

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“I was just texting him today,” McNair said. “When he first went down and came back, he saw how the grace of God had allowed him to recover from that injury. Now that he came back a second time, I told him he had to show the wrath of God and go out there and kill him this year for his team.”

A “crazy” idea helps

Shortly after Quinn was fired by the Phillies, his wife, Jeni, came up with the idea of ​​starting a hometown youth basketball league. Their daughter loved basketball, and the Quinns realized there was no more league in Port St. Joe.

“I was like, ‘This sounds crazy, but let’s do it,'” Quinn said.

The league – which Jeni Quinn named Hoops On The Coast – lasted two months and included 200 children aged 5 to 12. They played four days a week with matches all day Saturday before each age group ended with a league match.

“It made me forget what I was doing,” Quinn said. “It was great. I was filling in for coaches who couldn’t show up. I was training with the kids. I was doing games again. It was great. My wife was running the concession stand. There was such a diversity of people. kids, and it was great to see.”

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The league ended in early February with Quinn still without a team and baseball still in lockdown. But those doubts disappeared. He was at peace knowing that he was doing enough during the winter to further his career.

The Marlins called shortly after the lockout was lifted. They saw an Instagram video of Quinn sprinting on the high school track and wanted to sign it. It was only a minor league deal, but it was lucky. Quinn spent three weeks with the Marlins before requesting his release near the end of spring training.,

His speed, according to MLB’s Statcast, was measured last week in the elite range when he peaked at 30.4 feet per second. Quinn ran from home in first place last week on a bunt single in 3.77 seconds, which is tied for the eighth fastest time this season among all runners.

He wreaked havoc on the bases and moved so fast it was easy to forget how devastating it all seemed last May when Quinn had to be carried off the field.

“It was definitely crazy for me because I didn’t have metrics yet to compare my speed to what it was before,” Quinn said. “It was pretty much out of the way. It’s crazy to see that’s where it was last year.”

Quinn was driving Monday night when her mom called from Florida. Beverly Quinn wanted to talk to her son about everything he’s been through over the past year and the doubts he’s been dispelling. Just like on those trips to Tallahassee, Quinn had time to listen.

“I’m definitely impressed,” Quinn said. “I was just kind of listening to it and soaking up the moment to the point where I almost had tears in my eyes. It’s been a roller coaster ride, but I’m grateful for the journey I’ve been on.

“I have come to this point based on my faith. My mother and my wife continue to push me and encourage me. I know there are a lot of children in my neighborhood who look up to me, so I think when they see me push through the hardships I’ve been through, it gives them some kind of inspiration. I feel like that’s why I was put in the position that I am in.

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David C. Barham