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Bond relishing playing time

San Francisco Giants second baseman Brock Bond throws over Tyler Flowers during Monday's exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox in Glendale, Ariz.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 8:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 8:39 p.m.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — With so many starters off at the World Baseball Classic, Giants manager Bruce Bochy is throwing a handful of minor leaguers into significant playing time, hoping one or two show enough to merit an opening day roster spot.

“You hope these guys make the decisions difficult,” Bochy said.

A few are, led by Brock Bond, a second baseman who has six hits, including two homers, in his first 12 spring at-bats. With only one infield spot open and a several veterans in camp, Bond remains a long shot to make the roster, but that won't keep him down too long.

Less than two years after a career-threatening concussion, Bond is happy just to be back on a diamond.

The 27-year-old lost nearly a full year of baseball and development after being struck near the temple by a line drive during batting practice on May 3, 2011. Bond had suffered a concussion as a high school quarterback and at first he didn't think the line drive would lead to any problems. He tried — unsuccessfully — to talk his way into that night's lineup.

“The trainers asked me where I was and I had to think about it for a minute,” he said. “They asked me what day it was and I had to think about that, too.”

Bond said the serious symptoms started later that night, when his head started pounding and he couldn't sleep. Soon he started dealing with memory loss and dizziness when he walked.

What followed was a path that has become all too familiar in football and hockey, but remains a relative rarity in baseball.

Major League Baseball instituted a seven-day disabled list for concussions in 2011, and high-profile players such as Minnesota's Justin Morneau and Seattle's Jason Bay have missed significant time in recent years with post-concussion issues.

For the most part, however, baseball has remained immune to the concussion problems that have gripped other sports.

Bond, in his fifth year in the minors at that point, knew plenty about bumps and bruises.

But he quickly learned that there's no timetable when it comes to brain injuries.

“I was hoping it would get better, but it just never did,” he said. “For a while, doctors were saying we don't know if you can ever play again.”

Bond tried to return in August of 2011, but when he joined the Giants' rookie ball camp, he had trouble with coordination.

He was sent to see Dr. Michael Collins in Pittsburgh, a concussion expert who has worked closely with Tim Tebow, Sidney Crosby and dozens of other prominent athletes.

Collins asked Bond to keep a journal of his symptoms and prescribed new medication that helped Bond recover.

After missing nearly an entire minor league season and having to pass on playing winter ball in Australia, Bond finally was able to return to game action, albeit with an equipment change.

Bond now takes the field with thin soft-shell padding tucked into his baseball hat, adding an extra layer of protection against batted balls.

While many, most recently former A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy, have complained about protective headgear options, Bond said he has never felt uncomfortable.

“It's not really a big deal,” he said. “You don't ever really notice it when you're playing.”

Back at the plate after nearly a year off, Bond showed in 2012 that the concussion didn't rob him of the skill set that has edged him close to a big league debut. Bond hit .332 with a .422 on-base percentage at Triple-A Fresno last year, continuing a trend — he has a .410 career OBP — that has helped him stay in the lineudespite a lack of powerp.

“That's impressive — I don't care where you're at,” Bochy said. “He's intriguing. He'll throw out some good at-bats.”

While Bond's OBP brings back memories of Bonds, the second baseman has just four homers in 1,800 minor league at-bats. He surprised with two in his first seven Cactus League at-bats, and has played a solid second base.

“He's not known for his defense, but he's played well here,” Bochy said. “It's important for these guys to come in and show they can play on both sides. He's had a great spring.”

As the Giants headed for their first off day this spring, Bochy said the races to fill the backup spots in the outfield and infield are wide open. Even if Bond ends up back in Triple-A, the fact that he's running neck and neck with veterans can be considered a victory of its own less than two years after the concussion.

“We weren't sure if he would play again,” assistant general manager Bobby Evans said. “We thought that maybe he could return physically, but could he return effectively? We wondered if he could come back and compete like he used to, and he has.”

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