METAIRIE, La. — Josh Smith has been forced to trade in swinging a bat for a harvesting axe while recovering from his back injury.
A digital axe, that is.
The sophomore infielder spoke with reporters at The Shrine on Airline prior to the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic Tuesday, his first interview since being diagnosed with a stress reaction in his vertebrate after opening weekend.
The five weeks since have been a long, at-times frustrating rehabilitation process for Smith. He spent the first four prohibited from any kind of athletic activity or unnecessary movement as the injury started to heal.
So how does a 20-year-old athlete accustomed to taking daily ground balls spend a month on the shelf? Where can an intense competitor turn for a taste of victory when he can’t get off the couch?
“Play some video games I guess. That’s about all I can do,” Smith said. “Fortnite absolutely. I’m kind of addicted to it right now.”
Smith has tried to be around the team as much as possible since he resumed exercising a couple weeks ago. He follows a daily rehab regiment under the guidance of LSU trainer Cory Couture and began throwing — the closest he’s come yet to baseball activities — last week.
Each day begins with a heating pad and some stimulant to relax the muscles in his back. Then comes some intense stretching, core stabilizing work and, lately, a game of catch.
It’s been a completely new experience for Smith, who said he’s never suffered such a serious injury. He recalls pulling a muscle in his back two years ago, but that was more of a manageable ailment compared to what he’s gone through this season.
“It’s a challenge for sure, but it goes to show that not everything is going to work out the way you want it,” Smith said. “You can’t get down. You can’t see others see that you’re down, even when you’re having a bad day.”
Smith has done what he can to still be a leader for the Tigers throughout his absence, but admits it can be awfully difficult to be around the field while unable to play.
“I’ve just been trying to get out here and support the guys, have a presence in the locker room and the dugout,” Smith said. “Help some of the younger guys who need it and be there for those guys because I know they’d be there for me.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Monday that Smith had a slight setback last week that’s kept him from picking up a bat yet. That delay in the process has all but ruled out Smith returned next weekend as LSU travels to Texas A&M, which was his targeted return date as recently as last week.
Smith did say that he’s done some rotational exercises lately with bands that simulate everything up until the swing. He hopes to begin swinging for real late this week or early next week, but past setbacks have taught him that all timetables are subject to change when it comes to back injuries.
“That’s probably the hardest thing about it,” Smith said. “It’s a feel thing, so four-to-six weeks isn’t necessarily true. It’s kind of just how I feel. That’s been the hardest part, not really knowing when it’s going to get completely better.”
It’s still unclear when that will be, but given the way injuries are piling up for LSU, the Tigers will be awfully glad whenever they get him back.