Now healthy, Cameron showing what he can do

Now healthy, Cameron showing what he can do

Now healthy, Cameron showing what he can do
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Technically speaking, Mike Cameron is entering his second season with the Red Sox. But in reality, that wasn't really Cameron on display in 2010. That was a man who struggled just to move around on the baseball field, let alone be successful at it.

This is why Cameron has such a big smile on his face this spring. His athleticism was simply stripped from him a year ago.

But it is back now, thanks to the sports hernia surgery Cameron underwent last Aug. 27, not to mention a solid winter of rehab.

The veteran outfielder cranked a two-run double into the left-field corner in Sunday's 9-4 loss to the Pirates. He raked a drive to center field that was flagged down just in front of the wall.

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"He's able to show what he can do," said manager Terry Francona. "That's what we were hoping for last year, and it was just so hard for him to show it. He just couldn't get loose."

Through seven games, Cameron is hitting .400 in the Grapefruit League. But a 38-year-old player with 269 home runs and three Gold Gloves never takes much stock in Spring Training statistics.

What Cameron enjoys the most is just feeling like a ballplayer again.

"It is night and day," Cameron said. "I've been able to just worry about going out and playing instead of being so concerned with my body. Now I can just understand the things I need to work on to go out and play and just try to play well, man. I haven't been doing anything different than just trying to play good baseball and be a baseball player."

When healthy, Cameron has always been a pretty good baseball player -- good enough to be an everyday player for nearly a decade and a half. On this loaded Boston team, which boasts Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew in the outfield, Cameron can be the super-sub who aims to belt left-handed pitching around.

It is a role Cameron is embracing, and one he hopes will get him the first World Series ring of his career.

For now, though, Cameron is keeping things really simple and just savoring each day of good health. Many players wouldn't have even taken the field with the lower abdomen problems that hindered Cameron throughout the spring and summer of 2010.

After a 1-for-5, three-strikeout performance against the Tigers on July 30, Cameron's season came to an end. Though everyone respected his effort, it was evident he was no longer helping himself or the team by going out there.

"You saw what I was going through last year," Cameron said.

And what he's going through now is a rebirth of sorts.

"Obviously it is [nice]," Cameron said. "It's a good feeling to be able to make a turn and not having something be aching all the time or take a swing and something's hurting or make a throw and not have to almost fall over. Yeah, it feels good. It feels good to be able to take a solid swing at the plate without something hurting and trying to figure out things. I'm just listening to it and kind of rolling with it and enjoying it. I never, ever take it for granted, but I understand. It's a good thing."

The Red Sox were excited to land Cameron in December 2009, announcing his two-year, $15.5 million contract on the same day John Lackey was unveiled.

But as early as Spring Training last year, Cameron didn't quite appear to be himself. As it turns out, he wasn't.

"I was fighting a little bit," Cameron said. "It's all right though, you know. That's just the way it is sometimes. Now I understand that it's something that was destined to happen."

Because Cameron didn't mention much about his health, Red Sox fans fretted that he was getting old overnight when he misplayed some balls in center field early in the season. He took the criticism and kept trying to play.

There was something to be learned from the experience.

"It was a good opportunity this year coming in to really kind of listen to my body after some of the things that I was going through," Cameron said. "Just getting it ready to go play baseball and understanding the things I have to work on to keep my body functioning well."

Along those lines, Cameron took a few days off last week to rest some left knee tendinitis. And once Cameron returned to action, he continued his momentum.

"Yeah, it helped me out a whole lot," Cameron said. "Like I said, I didn't want one problem to run into another one. I'm just trying to play good ball right now."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.