MINNEAPOLIS -- The 2011 season was one to forget for the 99-loss Minnesota Twins -- especially for center fielder Denard Span.
Span suffered a concussion in early June when he collided at the plate with Kansas City Royals catcher Brayan Pena. Span tried to play again a few days later but was ultimately shut down for two months. During that time, it was clear the injury weighed on Span emotionally as much as it did physically.
But after taking time this offseason to get his head right, the 27-year-old sounds optimistic as he prepares for 2012.
"It's probably the best I've felt in two years," Span said Friday. "I don't want to jinx myself, or step out too far yet, because I won't know until I get down there in spring training and get to playing baseball every day and get on the field for five or six hours. But I can honestly say it's been a long but good offseason."
As the Twins' leadoff batter last season, Span was hitting .300 with a .367 on-base percentage before the injury. When he returned in early August, Span wasn't the same player. He was just 2-for-35 at the plate after his return and was again placed on the disabled list.
He returned one more time in September, which he said was a big emotional lift for him. In his five final games, he was 5-for-18 with two triples, two doubles and four runs scored -- including the lone run in the bottom of the ninth in Minnesota's 1-0 season-finale win over the Royals.
"It felt good. It made going into the offseason a little easier," Span said of the final week. "Even when I went home, it was still like the bittersweet feeling, feeling like -- I wouldn't say I wasted a year, but it was a tough season for me. It was a tough season all around for us. But coming back and playing that last week, and that last game of the season, going out and getting a big hit and scoring the winning run, it was almost like a storybook feeling for me after the long season."
Span has always been open about his Christianity throughout his big-league career. His faith, he said, helped him get through what proved to be a tough year.
"I spent most of the year last year asking God, 'Why now?' I felt like I was playing at a great level last year, even though we were struggling. But we were starting to turn it around at that point," Span said. "I feel like the answer I got from Him was, 'Everything happens for a reason.' Whatever the plan He has, it was not meant for me to play (a whole season) last year.
"I've taken it in stride, and it's made me stronger I think as an individual, not so much as a baseball player."
Span has done several things this offseason to help him recover from his concussion. He underwent therapy for his eyes to improve his focus. He changed up his diet and saw a chiropractor back home in Tampa, Fla. Span said he hasn't had any caffeine in "three or four months," and he also took up yoga this winter to help with flexibility.
"Body-wise, with my knees and my arm, this is the best I've felt in a couple years," he said.
If Span does indeed return to the field with a clean bill of health this season, he'll be the Twins' every-day center fielder, manager Ron Gardenhire said Friday. Span spent his first full season in the majors in 2009 bouncing between all three outfield positions. But when Carlos Gomez was traded to Milwaukee after the 2009 season, Span assumed the center field role full-time for the Twins in 2010.
Span said he's open to playing the corner outfield positions, but it's not likely he'll have to in 2012.
"Everybody knows I waited a long time to play center field, and I'm very passionate about it; there's a piece of me out in that area," Span said. "But at the same time, I just want to help us win ballgames. I'm willing to do that. I'm willing to pull myself and my pride aside and help us win."
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