BOWIE — Nolan Reimold has been so focused on getting healthy and getting back into the Orioles lineup, it didn't even occur to him that he was returning to the scene of one of his greatest days as a professional athlete.
It was in his last game at Prince George's Stadium as a member of the Double-A Bowie Baysox that Reimold almost single-handedly dismantled the Akron Aeros in the 2008 Eastern League playoffs. He hit three home runs that night and blasted a grand slam in his final at-bat.
"Oh gosh,'' he joked when he was reminded of that performance before he begain his injury rehabilitation assignment with the Baysox on Tuesday night, "I should just end on a good note. I shouldn't have come here. I should have gone somewhere else."
Of course, ending on a good note is what it's all about at this point for Reimold, who has been on the disabled list trying to shake off a nagging hamstring injury. Several times since he broke into the major leagues, he has been in a position to establish himself as an everyday presence in the Orioles lineup, only to have some physical setback push him back into a lengthy rehabitation program.
He looked like he was going to be a breakthrough player in 2009, when he moved into the starting lineup in mid-May and had 15 home runs and 45 RBI in 104 games before an Achilles tendon injury forced him onto an operating table in September.
Reimold opened last season as the everyday left fielder and got off to a strong April start — with five homers and 10 RBIs in his first 16 games — but again he had to stand down to undergo neck surgery after a disk herniation sapped the strength and muscle mass from his left shoulder.
So, he could be forgiven for wondering just many more obstacles he will have to clear to fully establish himself as the player fans have only gotten to see for a few tantalizing months over the past 4 ½ seasons.
"I've had my moments when I think back and think 'What the heck, why did this happen?,'" Reimold said before Tuesday's game against the Harrisburg Senators, "but that's in the past now. I'm getting better and getting healthy and just taking some time to come back from that kind of thing, and I still think I can be a good player for the Orioles and that's what I want to be."
The key is getting completely healthy and playing without limitation, which is why the next week or two could be a very critical juncture in Reimold's career. He tried to play through the hamstring soreness in April and early May while still working to regain strength in his shoulder, but he batted just .188 with four home runs and nine RBI in 101 at-bats. That's when the decision was made to wait until he was pain-free before putting him back in the major league lineup.
"If you've got an injury, if you're thinking about it — if you're thinking you're stinking,'' Reimold said. "That's kind of a motto that's true when it comes to baseball and hitting. If you're thinking about everything you're doing up there, you're probably not going to be very productive. I've cleared some issues up with my body and cleared my mind, and I want to go out there and play and get comfortable."
Even Tuesday night's appearance was not without a bit of intrigue. The field at Prince George's Stadium was drenched by an afternoon rainstorm that quickly convinced Reimold and Baysox manager Gary Kendall that it would be best for him to start out with a few at-bats as the designated hitter. The last thing anybody wants to see is Reimold slipping and sliding around left field and putting that hamstring in danger again.
"When I got in there, we discussed it,'' Reimold said. "Terry Crowley was in there. We talked it over with Gary. Made a tentative plan. Tonight, with the outfield all wet, just to be safe, I'll DH and hopefully start playing the field tomorrow."
The field drained well and was very playable by gametime. Reimold struck out in his first two at-bats, he but launched a long fly ball to left field his third time up that might have been a home run if not for the heavy mist that hung over the field and cut down a number of well-struck fly balls throughout the evening.
“The first two weren’t very good at all, but the third one felt pretty good all the way around, so it’s something to build off of,’’ he said afterward.
Reimold hopes that over the course of Bowie's six-game homestand, he can get enough at-bats and time in the outfield to declare himself ready to return to the major league lineup. How and when he eventually fits back in on a team that has gotten some good recent production from bench outfielders Steve Pearce and Chris Dickerson remains to be seen.
"I'm hoping, best case, that when they come back off the road, that I'll feel good and I'll start playing,'' Reimold said. "But it's a take-it-as-it-goes kind of thing. If I need a few more at-bats or a few more days in the field, then I can get them, too.
"I'm assuming that when I'm ready to go, I'll tell them I'm ready to go. I'm sure roster moves moves and stuff play into it if they want me to come off on a certain day, but I'll just let them know when I'm ready to go."
After coming up short so many times, maybe this will be the year when he finally gets to run through the tape and — in a perfect world — be a big part of the Orioles' second straight trip to the playoffs.
"I think that I can be a productive player for them down the stretch, and I think the team feels like that too," he said, "so that's what I'm working toward here."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.