CLEARWATER, Fla. - Ben Revere is one hurtin' happy dude. Sometimes the pins holding together his right foot feel like nails, he says. "And some days it might just be sore."
But make no mistake, there is pain involved.
"This is all about mental toughness," he said in front of his locker at Bright House Field early yesterday morning.
Here's the disclaimer. The centerfielder said this with his infectious smile. He said this while caressing his bat, inching toward the batting cages the way kids waiting to do something really cool do while waiting for the grownup to finish giving instructions.
Revere isn't begging out. He's begging in, all-in. The foot that broke and ruined his promising first season with the Phillies last July has mended as well as it's going to with the help of those pins. And the unfamiliarity with both a new league and a new team that made last spring uncomfortable and unproductive now seem to be little more than a historic footnote.
Yeah, it's only spring, but Revere's effort this March provides hope that the torrid stretch that preceded his injury last July was part of the young man's athletic evolution rather than simply fortuitous. It also suggests what he readily admits, that when he meets up with the Minnesota Twins this spring - as he did Sunday - he doesn't get homesick anymore.
"Everybody says the first time you get traded to a new team, you feel like a rookie again," he was saying. "It's true. Now I feel a lot more comfortable. I know what I've got to do. I know how everything is over here in the organization."
These days he's part of the ship, part of the crew. His locker squeezed between the three sluggers who will determine this team's prowess, Revere feels far more at home than he did a year ago, and it shows. Among the National League hitting leaders all spring, he owns a .433 average over his last eight spring-training games, including yesterday's 1-for-3 in the Phillies' 6-3, rain-shortened victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.
The day before, in a 5-1 victory over his former team, the Twins, Revere had a Gordie-Howe-hat-trick-like cycle. He singled, scored a run, stole a base, ran down a ball in deep left-center. In the first inning yesterday, he also ran down a well-hit ball to the deepest part of Toronto's antiquated ballpark, allowing Phillies starter David Buchanan, who is vying for the fifth starter's spot, to settle in.
"I told him next time we go out I'll buy the dinner," Buchanan said.
"I feel good, really," Revere said. "Of course, I've got to realize I've got to play with two nails in my ankle. That won't bother me. I feel like I'm back to where I left off."
You wonder what might have occurred had he not whacked that pitch off his foot last July 13. After hitting .200 in his first month as a Phillie, Revere hit .347 from May 1 on. Over the 62 games that preceded his injury, he had at least two hits in 25 of them and struck out just 22 times.
The Phillies won 32 of those games. They were 7-3 in the month of July before that three-game series with the Chicago White Sox, and had climbed to near .500. They had taken two of three games against Pittsburgh at the start of the month, had won two of three against Atlanta and three of four against Washington.
Over those 10 games, the team had scored 45 runs.
After winning two of three against Chicago and the first game of a Mets series, the Phillies lost eight games in a row without Revere at the top of the order. They scored a total of 14 runs in those games. Yeah, a lot went wrong for the Phillies last year. But until Revere disappeared, they were hanging.
Which is the kind of hope the player Ryan Howard calls "Happy" is selling this spring. "I feel like I'm back to where I left off," he said. "That's a good sign. It's all about getting timing down and getting ready to go."
And staying healthy. The pins, he said, are supposed to come out at the end of this season.
"But I know if I hit good," Revere said, "everybody will be like, 'Hey, leave them in.' "
Yep. And put a couple more in the other foot.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon