'It hasn't been easy': Cubs' Miguel Amaya called up after 'roller coaster' injury

WASHINGTON — Tennessee Smokies manager Michael Ryan simply told catcher Miguel Amaya he needed to talk about plans for this week's trip. Amaya ditched a grocery shopping trip and met Ryan at the Montgomery, Alabama hotel where a Double-A Cubs affiliate was staying this week.

There, Ryan breaks the news to Amaya: He won't be going after the Smokies on Tuesday.

Because he joined the Cubs in Washington, DC

Amaya jumped up and hugged Ryan. Then, the catcher called his parents.

It's been a long road to the big leagues for Amaya, who has been on the 40-man squad since November 2019 but has had to make a U-turn due to injury.

Just as he returned late last season – hitting but unable to catch after undergoing Tommy John surgery in November 2021, – he slid to second base trying to break up a double play, and his cleats caught in the ground. He suffered a high ankle sprain and a Lisfranc fracture in his left leg.

“It's not easy,” Amaya said Tuesday. “It's been a roller coaster, ups and downs, a lot of mental work, and of course physical. But this is something that keeps us strong, positive every day and loyal.”

Amaya was in the final stages of her recovery with spring training, increasing baseball activity at major league camp. He started the season in Double-A, posting 1,070 OPS in 13 games. So when on Monday Yan Gomes was hit in the catcher's helmet with a backswing and dropped out of the game after the first inning, Amaya got a call.

In a suitable move, the Cubs named Ryan Borucki for the assignment.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Gomes was still being evaluated. The Cubs have not ruled out placing him on the seven-day injured list, which is used for players with concussion symptoms.

“I wouldn't say he feels great,” said manager David Ross. “I don't think he's miserable. I think he just feels fine.

Ross, a former catcher, can speak of head injuries from personal experience, having had several concussions in his career. In 2013, he spent about two months on the injured list due to concussion symptoms.

“We were taught as athletes that if you can go out and perform, you go out there and perform,” says Ross. “And when you have a broken leg, or you have Tommy John (surgery), there is a scar on the elbow, and a cast, and a brace.

“We can't look inside the brain and see what's going on, and how to deal with a guy who gets hit in the head, and how that affects everyone differently. So it's a bit of a wild card. It's hard for a competitor's ego to take a step back and admit that you weren't right.”

Barnhart's Catcher Tucker echoes Ross' encouragement to be careful.

“He's a big part of our team, both in the locker room on the pitch, in meetings,” Barnhart said of Gomes in a conversation with the Sun-Times. “But head stuff you shouldn't mess around with. I feel very strongly about that.

Gomes and Barnhart are part of Amaya's latest development. Amaya works alongside veteran catchers in spring training, running through defense drills, hitting the field, pitching, asking questions.

“A very good boy,” said Barnhart. “Open to desire to be better.”

Amaya wanted to take as much out of observing the veteran couple as possible. He recorded what time they arrived at the complex for initial work, how they went about their pre-game routine, how they led the team.

He also had to work with the big league pitching staff. He came through the minors with a few pitchers, but spring training gave him a chance to get to know the others.

“Everyone saw how talented he was,” said pitching coach Tommy Hottovy. “But just the little things, like how quickly he picks up on PitchCom. He was one of the first to use it live (batting practice session). … you talk to him about what men can do, and he already has a good sense of what men are capable of.

Now, Amaya is back in the locker room with the guys. His parents, Max and Anny, were on their way from Panama to watch Wednesday's game.

When he first called them with the news, he said it took him an hour to reach them.

“When they answered, they were shocked,” said Amaya. “Then they started crying. I started crying too. It is something we have been waiting for, for so long.”