Boise Hawks outfielder Eric Toole spent most of his offseason on the couch back home in Iowa.
“Every Saturday, watched Hawkeye football games, NFL every Sunday, during the week, a lot of Netflix,” Toole said.
Not that it was his choice.
Toole felt pain when he ran last season with the Hawks, and though he had 12 hits in his last eight games of his rookie year of pro baseball, it became too much to bear. After initially thinking it was a hernia, he was diagnosed in Boise with a stress fracture in his pelvis.
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A speedy, high-average hitter, Toole’s rare injury forced him to rest for more than three months after his 2015 campaign was cut short in mid-August.
“The doctor said they only see two or three a year,” Toole said. “It was pretty terrible. Couldn’t lift weights, swing the bat, nothing.”
The first steps back to getting in baseball shape were tough, slowly working up from walking to jogging to running. His first true workouts resumed in January, and Toole said, “It was tough, never felt so much pain in my life.”
After shaking off rust in spring training, Toole has started this season strong.
One of five outfielders on the Hawks’ roster, Toole isn’t an everyday player, but he’s picked up where he left off last season when he’s been in the lineup. In six games, he is hitting 7-of-23 (.304 average), drawing three walks, which was tied for second on the team coming into Tuesday’s game.
“He’s a guy I can count on. I know he will be ready whenever I need him,” Hawks manager Andy Gonzalez said. “... He knows what kind of hitter he is and is going to be a good defender in the outfield. Any time I get the shot to put him in, I don’t hesitate.”
Toole built a solid foundation in 29 games last season, though he gladly would have played a few more if not for the injury. Now in his second season, he feels his approach is more sound. He walked every 12.9 at-bats in 2015, but this season it’s every 7.7.
“Feeling pretty confident up there right now, can lay off the tough pitches that are an inch or two off, where maybe I didn’t before,” Toole said.
Though he ended last season on a hot streak, the injury may have prevented a late-season move up in the Colorado Rockies’ system. Being back in Boise for a second season isn’t a negative to Toole, who sees it as another shot to show improvement.
“I’ve taken it in stride. It’s nice to be back here,” Toole said. “I know I’ll get my opportunities here and will make the most of them, so when they’re ready to maybe move me up, I know I’ll be ready.”