FORT MYERS, Fla. -- And so it begins for Grady Sizemore.
He walked into JetBlue Park at approximately 9:30 a.m. Sunday, looking for direction. Where was his new clubhouse? Who should he see to get set up? Where was the Red Sox' medical staff?
Four hours later, Sizemore walked out of the complex carrying a Cleveland Indians duffel bag, flush with a morning full of familiarity. He had found his locker, been given a new number (38), and met up with the man who has presented a plan that might keep the outfielder in the health he has been seeking for the past four years, coordinator of sports medicine services, Dan Dyrek.
Yet, some questions -- the really important ones -- won't be answerable for some time. The outfielder knows that.
"It's a unique situation and that's why I don't really know exactly what to expect," Sizemore said. "It's hard to predict how it's going to play out here in the next six weeks for me, baseball-wise and physically. It's a day-to-day thing. I have a lot of communication between myself, the training staff and the coaching staff. I think we'll be in a good spot."
Calling it a "unique situation" is apropos. This is a guy who hasn't played on a regular basis since 2009 due to a variety of injuries (including two microfracture knee surgeries, along with a procedure on his elbow and a sports hernia operation).
But what will separate Sizemore from potentially any other position player in big league history is if he actually pulls this thing off.
Identifying an upper-echelon position player in his pre-prime/prime who has come back to duplicate an identical level of dominance after missing such a significant chunk of time due to injury isn't easy. It actually might be impossible.
Two players who came at similar ages after taking two seasons off and went on to pick up where they left off were Joe DiMaggio and Joe Gordon. The difference was, of course, that they left the big leagues due to World War II and not any sort of injury.
A guy like former Red Sox outfielder Rocco Baldelli might offer a better example, having missed 1 1/2 years of action on two separate occasions. The first time -- after ACL surgery and Tommy John surgery -- even paved the way for experiences that could have potentially assisted in his second comeback attempt. In the end, like so many put in similar situations, Baldelli could never uncover his old self.
"The little things I didn't take into consideration like I should have when I was younger," Baldelli said by phone. "You learn how to take care of your body better and pay closer attention to the things that matter."
At 31-years-old, Sizemore has heeded Baldelli's advice.
He deliberately waited until now to jump back in. He could have signed last September, but didn't. There was another major league offer in early December, but he wasn't ready. Then, when the Red Sox came calling with the potential of playing time and the Dyrek-delivered optimistic message, the time seemed to be right.
"I've definitely been more of a student of the game the last couple of years than I have as a player, so hopefully I can take little things that I picked up. It's hard to answer that question right now," said Sizemore when asked if he could use his experiences over the past few years to actually get better in some areas. "Every day I go out there I'm looking to improve so I hope when I get back and healthy I am better. There are certain aspects that are going to take a hit early on, but I think over time I should hopefully be able to come back and be as good or better."
But here's the thing: "good or better" would be historic.
The good thing for the player and his new team is that finding that level of play Sizemore achieved from 2005-08 isn't a necessity. It was a pace even a healthy player would have a difficult time maintaining, serving as the game's best center fielder (.868 OPS, 115 stolen bases, 107 home runs). Baseball-reference.com pegged him with an overall value of 24.6 wins above a replacement-level player (WAR) during that time, behind only Albert Pujols (34.7), Chase Utley (31.3) and Alex Rodriguez (30.1) in WAR over that period.
"I remember a really dynamic player -- you know what? Probably a guy similar to Ellsbury's 30-home run, 100-RBI year. He was a guy who could hit anywhere in the lineup," said Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow, a former teammate of Sizemore in Cleveland. "Just a really dynamic player who was a threat to hit the ball out of the park, a guy who wasn't going to strike out, he was going to get on base, hit for a high average, play solid defense and a guy who played really, really hard. I think part of the reason he struggled so badly to stay healthy was because he played through all kinds of injuries. He would play kind of like a Shane Victorino-type or a Dustin Pedroia-type guy."
Breslow added, "He's such a great athlete that I don't think anybody is worried about the deterioration of his skill set. It's a matter of whether or not he can stay healthy. He's been a productive major league player. He's been an All-Star player when he's healthy. I don't see any reason why that should be different. It's just a question of hopefully getting him into the hands of our medical guys and hopefully getting him on the field."
Sizemore clearly has some level of confidence that the rust can be shaken off while not reuniting with the trainer's table.
Sunday, he spoke with confidence concerning his path back, sprinkling in the reality that is always easier to stomach in the early days of February.
"I'm healthy. I'm good to go. There will still be some things that I'm working on this spring, just trying to get back to 100 percent," he said. "I'm not necessarily in baseball shape but I'm in good physical shape, moving around good. I'm just looking forward to playing baseball.
Later Sizemore elaborated, explaining, "It's all going to be bad early. Not bad, but it's going to be rusty. Any offseason you come in you feel rusty, but when you haven't played in two years and the better part of four years you've been injured … Timing is going to be off. It's going to be tough. Obviously it's going to be a big adjustment early. Just not going getting too frustrated, knowing you're going to go through some bumps early on and that's expected."
The questions have just begun being asked.
Can you still play center field?
"I'm willing to play anywhere. … I have to evaluate myself when I get out there this spring and see how it looks and see how it feels."
Are you as fast as you used to be?
"I hope so, we'll see. I still feel like I have the speed. It's one of those things where it's more durability. Can you put it together every day? Maybe out of the shoot I'm not going to say my speed is the exact same that it was the last time I was healthy, but I definitely think I can get there. It's just a matter of staying healthy and putting together a good program together."
Will you be ready to start spring training on time?
"We'll see. I don't know if I'll be ready in the first game, but I think I'll be pretty close if it's not right there. I still need some evaluating to do of myself, see how I feel, and see how I feel when I get into more baseball workouts."
How were able to stay sane over the past few seasons?
"There is no way to do it. You basically go insane. I'm a pretty calm guy so I wasn't bouncing off the walls or anything. You're frustrated. You're upset. You're not in a good place."
Grady Sizemore the baseball player returns this week. After that, who knows? Not the Red Sox. Not the medical men. And certainly not the three-time All-Star.
"I'm just going to come and see where I'm at," he said. "I'm happy to be back healthy and now I'm just going to get back into playing baseball and see what happens."
Alex Speier contributed to this report