OAKLAND, CALIF. - Denard Span knew as a kid that he wasn't comfortable in enclosed spaces. But it wasn't until he became a professional baseball player -- and started having magnetic resonance imaging exams -- that he realized that he was legitimately claustrophobic.
"The first time I took an MRI was two years ago," he said. "I went to the place and they laid me down and put the mask on me and I couldn't do it. Couldn't sit still. Had to come back 2-3 weeks later with a lot of Valium and I was able to get through it."
Having MRI exams for his concussion symptoms last season weren't that bad. All he had to do was keep his head still.
The tough ones are when he's not allowed to move his arms and hands, such as Tuesday when he went in for a precautionary MRI on a sore right clavicle that's taking longer to heal than Span and the Twins expected.
As Span entered the MRI machine, he thought to himself, "There's got to be a better way."
"By 2012, you would think they would have some better technology," Span said.
Better technology, and perhaps the Twins and Span might understand why he's been slow to recover from a sore clavicle suffered Aug. 12 when he attempted to make a falling catch of a ball hit by the Rays' Jeff Keppinger. Span announced after the game that he intended to take a couple of days to heal and expected to play in last weekend's series against Seattle.
That was nine games ago.
To be clear, Span is not officially blaming technology for the delay in his comeback. He's clearly frustrated that it's taken this long for him to recover.
The Twins want their players to be honest with them, and they believed Span when he told them he would need just a few days before returning to the lineup. Otherwise, Span would be on the disabled list and Chris Parmelee would be up from Class AAA Rochester.
As long as the diagnosis doesn't demand a DL stint, the Twins have allowed their players to have input. Here are two examples.
In May, Ryan Doumit strained his calf during a game in Detroit, and the Twins intended to place him on the disabled list. Doumit learned of their intentions, approached manager Ron Gardenhire and General Manager Terry Ryan and voiced his objections. Doumit avoided the disabled list and was back in the lineup within a couple of days.
Third baseman Trevor Plouffe felt he could come back quickly from a bruised right thumb, but the thumb didn't respond properly. So he landed on the DL and missed about three weeks.
The Twins are listening to Span like they did Doumit and Plouffe -- aware that it sets them up for criticism when players don't return to action within a few days.
"When I talked to Denard before we left on this road trip and basically said, 'Look, if you are going to need some time, we are going to have to make a move,'" assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "'Or do you feel like you're getting to the point where you can play?'
"He was confident he was going to be able to play in Seattle. It didn't work out."
At this point, the Twins could have DL'd Span, but Span reported improvement. It was during this time that they went from 13 to 12 pitchers and added outfielder Matt Carson. It their minds, they weren't that shorthanded.
Span still could land on the disabled list if he can't play this weekend in Texas. And the Twins might ask him to consider trying another MRI exam. But his clavicle has improved enough to where he took swings on Tuesday and Wednesday and he plans to be part of early batting practice on Thursday.
"My goal is to play before the series is over," he said.
After having to admit to the world that he's claustrophobic during this ordeal, landing on the DL would cap two bad two weeks for Span.
"It was embarrassing to not [have the MRI]," he said. "I wanted to know from the MRI what was wrong with me or if there was something structurally wrong. The fact that I could not get it done was frustrating."
La Velle E. Neal III • email@example.com