Gil LeBreton

Colby Lewis’ Hollywood story just riding along with Rangers

Rangers starting pitcher Colby Lewis, who had knee surgery on a torn meniscus after the American League Division Series last year, works in the first inning of Wednesday 6-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Rangers starting pitcher Colby Lewis, who had knee surgery on a torn meniscus after the American League Division Series last year, works in the first inning of Wednesday 6-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

In the inevitable movie, the rugged hero needs to be played by someone equally manly and robust.

Someone who looks like they can overcome rotator cuff surgery and return to pitching.

Someone who seems to have the resolve to go to a foreign land to rebuild their baseball career.

Someone with the guts to roll the dice on a revolutionary hip resurfacing procedure — and then come back two seasons later to win 17 games.

Now that’s a movie.

The tale of Colby Lewis is the best under-told story in baseball. Fans of the Texas Rangers have been following it and cheering it for most of the past 17 years.

The rotator cuff injury nearly ended his pitching career. Then the two seasons he spent in Japan, pitching for the Hiroshima Carp, resurrected it.

But then came elbow surgery, followed in August 2013 by the surgery that gave him, in effect, a new hip.

And yet, at age 36, there he was last season, starting 33 games for an injury-plagued Rangers team that was trying to catch the Houston Astros.

Josh Brolin as Colby? No. Too short. And Colby Lewis is tougher.

It was in May of last year’s 17-9 season that Colby noticed his right knee was sore.

“I really didn’t think too much about it at first,” Lewis recalled, “but I woke up after a start one night to go to the bathroom and it just collapsed. Like I had no strength in it.”

An MRI disclosed a torn meniscus. Lewis, quietly and remarkably, never missed a start.

Two days after the American League Division Series, he underwent knee surgery to repair the meniscus. One week after shedding his crutches, Colby took team physician Keith Meister’s advice and forgot about jogging.

In his garage was a 20-year-old “rock hopper” — a mountain bike — that was dusty and needed new tires. But Lewis realized that that wasn’t going to be enough, and so he bought a Specialized Diverge Elite, an upscale hybrid with bigger tires than a road bike.

The competitor in Lewis, however, soon gave in.

A group of older, more experienced bike riders — some of them 100 pounds lighter than Colby — were forcing him to struggle to keep up.

“I was just getting my butt kicked real bad,” he said, laughing at the memory. “I was at a mechanical disadvantage with all those guys riding real light bikes and stuff.”

He did what most bike riders do — he bought yet another bicycle, this time a carbon-fiber Specialized S-Works Tarmac Dura-Ace.

Price tag on the Specialized website: $8,000.

And then came the outfit — the bibs, the helmet, the toe clips.

“Oh, yeah, the bibs, jerseys, the shades,” Colby said. “You’ve got to be geared-out when you go cycling with these guys.

“There were a couple of older gentlemen that I got to know in the off-season who kind of took me under their wing and showed me things. There’s a lot of technique to it that I didn’t really know about, especially when you’re clipped in.”

Serious cyclists wear shoes that click into the pedals, and it takes some getting used to.

“Yeah, I mean I only fell over one time,” Lewis reported. “I went to a stop sign and just timberrr! Fell over. Forgot to clip out.

“That’s the only time. But it only takes falling over once before you remember to clip out all the time.”

It was a beautiful early spring this year in Bakersfield, Calif., Lewis’ hometown, and the rides on the roads and trails, with snow-capped mountains on the horizon on some days, became part of Colby’s off-season motivation.

He rode with the hometown group at least three times a week, 35 to 40 miles, not counting the 19-mile round-trip that he pedaled each time from his home. His longest ride has been 65 miles.

“I like to keep my average around 18.5 miles an hour, something like that,” Lewis said.

His time on the bicycle, rehabbing the knee, has shown him a path for fitness that he can follow for the rest of his life, Lewis said.

But the athlete in Colby Lewis has found something else.

“The competitive side of it,” he said. “Guys jump out in front and they leave the pack, and the pack goes faster until the next guy jumps out there. Everybody kind of pushes each other, talking smack to each other.

“It’s camaraderie. It’s kind of like the locker room.”

The knee is fine, he said. His weight has dropped quickly, and he’ll soon be at his normal playing weight of 230 pounds.

Still too big for Russell Crowe to play him in the movie.

But can Chris Pratt throw a curveball?

Hollywood is missing a great story.

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