He's currently making a comeback after two off-season surgeries have slowed him down.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NILES -- Curtis Gay's recent setbacks have put him in an intriguing position with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
Not only does the 6-foot-6 first baseman return to the team with which he started his professional career in 1999, but Gay seems to have landed a leadership role with it, as well.
"I was looking forward to coming back," Gay said. "It is short season, but then again there's no where else like it around that you get to go play at."
Those are pleasant memories for Gay, who recalled the thousands of fans who packed Cafaro Field two years ago.
He just didn't expect to be back after spending last season at Class A full-season Columbus (Ga.).
Under the knife: But Gay had hernia surgery last November and another in April when his body rejected the mesh used in the initial operation. That caused him to miss all of spring training.
Gay finally began his comeback three weeks ago during extended spring training in Winter Haven, Fla.
"He's only been in our lineup for two weeks," Scrappers manager Dave Turgeon said. "It's been a rough road for him. [He's] out to prove to people that [he] belongs at a higher level, and I'm very anxious to see how he responds to being here."
Because he played in only four full games in Winter Haven, Gay has returned to Mahoning Valley "to get some innings and some at-bats," he said. "Basically, get back in the rhythm of playing the game every day, which I wasn't able to do during spring training."
Two years ago, Gay was a Scrappers rookie who came from Enid, Okla. He batted .231 with two home runs and 24 RBIs.
Following the 1999 season, Gay went to the Indians' instructional league before returning home in November to take his mind off baseball.
In Columbus, Ga.: Last year, Gay played in 97 games for Columbus, batting .169 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs.
"I struggled at times and I also missed four weeks because I tore a ligament in my elbow," he said.
The injury in the left-hander's throwing arm limited his duty to a designated hitter's role.
"I've talked to some people, and no one really got hurt in college," said Gay, who attended Oklahoma City College. "But playing eight months out of the year, your body is not used to the wear and tear every day."
Gay recognized that his return to the Scrappers coincides with a leadership role he has assumed.
"Turgeon talked to me a little about that," Gay said. "Most of the guys here have at least some college experience, so they're older. Then again, it's also their first year. So I guess you could say it makes me somewhat of a leader."
Knows what it's like: He already showed his experience by describing to teammates the atmosphere during games at Cafaro Field.
"I told them, 'You're going to get treated pretty good up here. You're going to have 5,000 [fans] a night at home. Then, you're going to go on the road and play in front of 500,' " Gay said.
Now, Gay will be a part of that experience one more time.
"I'm glad to be back," he said. "I'm healthy now and I'm looking to make a fresh start."