The best of times have to be ahead for Grady Sizemore, because after the past season or two, Sizemore can't have times much worse than he's been experiencing.
Start with an injury-plagued '09 season, as bad a season as he's had in the Major Leagues, and then go to the nude photographs that made Sizemore the poster boy for all the women (and some men) who like ogling muscular bodies in their au naturel state.
The photos earned him headlines he didn't want, and they might have had a longer shelf-life than plutonium had Tiger Woods and his insatiable appetite for sex not pushed those photos off TMZ and other websites.
Sizemore quickly became stall news, as worthless as the canceled checks the bank sends back each month.
Circumstances that broke his way allowed Sizemore to distance himself from those nude photos on the Internet, and he went to Spring Training in February with all the optimism of a star athlete ready to continue his All Star-caliber play.
But the derring-do that had defined his career with the Indians never displayed itself fully. From Opening Day onward, Sizemore didn't play with his typical recklessness. The 30-30 guy he used to be had been reduced to a .211 hitter with no punch and a bad wheel.
A date with disabled list found its way into his appointment book.
Now, his season is finished. Sizemore had surgery in Vail, Colo., on his left knee Friday, an arthroscopic procedure that will sideline him for six-to-eight months. The doctor who performed it called the operation a success. But how will the doctor measure that success? Will he use the same gauge that the Indians or Sizemore want to use?
The latter is a difficult question to answer. In fact, this question might be an impossible one to answer - in the short run, anyway. For the only thing that will make this surgery a success is for Sizemore to return to the elite ballplayer he was before his body started to betray him - one nagging injury atop another.
So, for Sizemore, another season is awash in disappointment. He had hoped to revisit the glory years that made him the matinee idol of teens and women of a certain age. He was a humble star who, those nude photos notwithstanding, seemed uncomfortable with his fame.
He never came across as a "me" or "I" kind of ballplayer, which made Sizemore the rarest of athlete. What drove him is winning, and he played as hard as any player in the game in trying to win. His diving catches in center field might have had a little hot dog in them, but Sizemore, a star football player during his high school days, dove for fly balls as if trying to leap into the end zone on first-and-goal inside the 1-yard line.
The pounding those headfirst dives put his sculpted body through proved every bit as damaging as running into Ray Lewis on a quarterback option with the end zone inches away.
Yet that's the only way the 27-year-old Sizemore knew how to play. He was all-in, and it was that fearless approach to patrolling center that he cashed into two Gold Gloves and stardom. He was the best position player on the Indians from 2005 to '08, and no one had reason to believe his star wouldn't continue to shine like the noontime sun over the Sahara.
A sirocco can blow dust that blots out the sun, and darkness seems to hang over Sizemore's future like dust clouds. Not even he can see what awaits him on the other side, not with his left knee on the mend. Sizemore might never again be the ballplayer he used to be, which is the frightening prospect that he must confront.
These are the times that try a man's soul, some politician once said. And if a man's soul is going to be tried, it should be the soul of a man who can face hard times and survive them.
That's the kind of man that Grady Sizemore seems to be. That's the kind of man he must be if his baseball career is to be what it once was.