As MLB players across the country take the field this week to kick off the 2023 season, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more grateful to be playing than Nick Ahmed. After enduring injuries and sickness and the fewest plate appearances of any season in his nine years in the big leagues, the Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop is eager to regain his form.
Ahmed is entering his 10th season, all with the Diamondbacks, who acquired him in a 2013 trade with Atlanta, which selected him in the second round out of the University of Connecticut in 2011. He made his MLB debut in June 2014, won Gold Gloves in 2018 and 2019, and is now the longest-tenured player on the Diamondbacks.
But the 33-year-old is also entering the final season of a four-year contract he signed in 2020, and coming off a season in which he appeared in just 17 games. He missed the first 13 games of 2022 due to recurring shoulder issues, played from April 22 until May 15, then was out for the season.
When his shoulder pain prevented him from being able to even throw the ball to first base, he knew he needed to get it fixed. But that was just the beginning of his trials in 2022.
“It finally got to a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore, couldn’t play, couldn’t throw the ball across the infield,” Ahmed told Sports Spectrum this offseason. “It affected a lot of stuff off the field as well. Couldn’t put my seatbelt on in the car, [could] barely take a shower and dry off afterwards. Just reaching across my body and up to get something out of the cabinet became difficult and challenging.
“And as I’m playing through this and going through the season, I get to a point where I’m about to go see a doctor just for a second opinion. And the night before we fly to L.A. to play the Dodgers and I’m going to see this doctor in L.A., I woke up at three in the morning after going to bed feeling great. The worst sickness I think I’ve ever felt in my life; at least top three.”
For the next three weeks, he could barely get out of bed, often felt dizzy and had a hard time breathing.
So that delayed any work on his shoulder, but Ahmed thought the time of rest could help it.
“I tried to come back and the shoulder was even worse, actually, after three weeks of rest. So it was kind of confirmation that, ‘Hey, you got to go take care of it.’ Sure enough, I go in and get the shoulder surgically repaired and it was a lot worse than anyone thought or expected. I needed to get a bunch of anchors put in to reconstruct my labrum and shave down a bunch of different bone spurs. [I was] thankful to do that, because I’m going to have a better shoulder on the other side,” he said.
As he began rehab on his shoulder, Ahmed thought he could address other parts of his body that he wanted to get stronger or parts that had bothered him. His ankle was one of those areas, but again, he saw no improvement.
“I’m like, ‘Man, what’s going on? My ankle’s not getting better, it’s actually getting worse. I’m not even playing right now. I’m just rehabbing,'” Ahmed said. “So I ended up getting that looked at as well and had a bone that broke off the backside of my ankle. Nothing super serious long term, but I had to go in to get surgery to get that bone removed. So I ended up having another surgery.”
He incorporated ankle rehab into his routine and hoped to finally be on the mend. But then he ended up in the hospital for a day with stomach pain.
“I literally couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t move,” Ahmed said. “I was in the fetal position; just basically felt like I was trying to survive the day and get through it. … After COVID, after the shoulder, after the ankle, and then I have the stomach thing.”
Conventional doctors and testing couldn’t give him a cause, so he ended up seeing a different doctor who eventually determined Ahmed had a parasite. So he got on a protocol to get rid of it.
“All summer long, it was one thing after another of pain and injury and sickness and there were many days where I couldn’t sleep,” Ahmed said. “There were many days where I was just struck and overwhelmed by the pain and the sickness and didn’t know if I was going to be better. It was this kind of hopeless feeling of one thing starts to get better and then boom, you get hit with another. And then one thing starts to get better and boom, you get hit with another. I think a lot of people can relate with that. Life just kind of comes at you, and sometimes can overwhelm you, with a lot of waves.
“And I went to Scripture and tried to just lean into what God was saying to help get me through those times. Second Corinthians 4 just kept jumping out to me. It was something I clung to.”
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” — 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NLT)
“That just gave me so much hope, but the main thing it did was redefine my perspective,” Ahmed said. “The phrase ‘fix your gaze’ — my gaze was being fixed on my pain, on my sickness, on my sleeplessness, on the situation. [So] I started to fix my gaze back onto Jesus where it belonged — and not that I consciously chose not to, I was just so overwhelmed with pain and discomfort that it was hard.”
That particular passage of the Bible wasn’t new to Ahmed, but spoke to him right where he was at. He says he’s read the Bible cover to cover and continues to keep reading it.
“The Bible is very practical,” he said. “It gives us very applicable steps of things we can do in our life. So you’ve got to do what it says. In James, [it says] we can’t be hearers of the Word, we have to be doers of it.”
On days when he was in too much pain to even read the Bible or pray, his wife, Amanda, encouraged him to just play worship music. Whether he was lying in bed or on the floor in the fetal position because of the pain, he would play worship music on his phone and just let that wash over him.
“It became my song as I was going through life and going through the trials and going through rehab and in the training room, doing all these painful exercises to try to get my body back to where I needed it to be,” he said. “… I started to sing out loud [last] year more than I ever have in my life. Not to anyone else but to myself. I was just singing the lyrics of these songs over and over again, and that helped me fix my gaze not on my temporary circumstance, but on who God is and who He says I am.”
On March 6, Ahmed returned to the field in a spring training game against Kansas City in Surprise, Arizona. In the bottom of the first inning, a line drive came in his direction. The shortstop jumped and snagged it out of the air, like he’s done countless other times in his career. He made a couple other putouts on the day and went 1-for-3 with a single at the plate.
“It was great to be back out on the field,” he said in a tweet following the game.
10 months of injuries, surgeries, therapy, training and so much love and support from @AmandaAhmed_ , family and therapists, it was great to be back out on the field and compete with the @dbacks today! #blessed #persevere #goodtobeback #mlb #dbacks #baseball #springtraining pic.twitter.com/DdawOQ7qwa
— Nick Ahmed (@NickAhmed13) March 7, 2023
In 13 games this spring, Ahmed hit .250.
“I think we missed having Nick around a lot last year, from an experience standpoint, the steadiness, the defense, the ability to hit left-handers,” general manager Mike Hazen said after Ahmed’s first appearance this spring.
The Diamondbacks open the regular season on Thursday in Los Angeles. Ahmed knows he may not see as many starts as he has previously, with 23-year-old Geraldo Perdomo making 131 starts at shortstop last season as Ahmed rehabbed.
For now, though, Ahmed is thrilled to be back on the field after enduring a tough 2022. And he’s grateful for the lessons God taught him through the trials.
“I just know that I need Jesus to help me, to not just get through the storms of life, but come out on the other side a better person and more like Him,” Ahmed told Sports Spectrum. “And able to share the things that I’ve been through.”
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