Bobby Jenks has seen the top.
But until recently very few knew he’s seen the bottom too.
Being one of many heroes on the 2005 White Sox team that ended an 88-year World Series drought, the former closer was back at SoxFest this weekend as an invitee of the team.
Open, honest and forthcoming, Jenks shared the personal struggles he’s been through since leaving the White Sox after the 2010 season.
“I literally was close to death. Not just scared to death. I was close,” Jenks told CSNChicago.com on Saturday.
Jenks last pitch was in the big leagues in July 2011 for the Boston Red Sox. But, it was a game just a few weeks prior that led to a downward spiral.
“I shouldn’t even have come out of the bullpen. I felt it then, but I wanted to do my job. I’m a gamer. I wanted to play. I wanted to get my job done. I tried to just fight through it one more day and just couldn’t. I literally through that pitch and my body wouldn’t allow me to do anything else.”
What happened after led to three back surgeries in two years, depression and an addiction to painkillers that put the two-time All-Star and 2005 White Sox hero’s life in jeopardy.
Jenks pitched with pain as far back as the minor leagues in 2000 with the Los Angeles Angels. The pain became more frequent with the White Sox. But with Boston, it became unbearable, leading to his first surgery in 2011, one that he nearly died from.
“The real problem was I had four little hooks growing on the inside of my spine and the bone spurs were trying to protect itself as a shield. So, we went in there to take those out thinking that was the problem. We took two off and unfortunately, the surgery didn’t go as well as it should have.”
Shortly after the surgery, Jenks was forced to take matters into his own hands.
“I ended up opening myself up in two different spots in my spine and I was leaking spinal fluid very heavily about a week after my surgery. I didn’t realize it at the time until I went to go sit down on the couch, it literally felt that one of my kids was behind me and had dumped a glass of water down my back.”
What the former White Sox star didn’t know was just how bad the problem really was.
“My back was literally like a faucet left on and fluid was just coming out. I went to see a few doctor friends in Arizona and they immediately told me, ‘go to the emergency room right now’ and I went in for emergency that night (with Dr. Chris Young). Without that I could’ve gone to bed that night and not woken up.”
Jenks relied heavily on painkillers afterwards. To the point he realized he had a problem.
“They will fool you like no other. They will make you think that you’re in control of everything. When you try to put them away, that’s when you realize you have no control at all. That’s where the realization came in. I woke up and thought that I needed them then. I didn’t want them. I needed them.”
Shortly after that recognition, Jenks got “a wakeup call” after realizing his life was at a crossroads.
“I got a DUI in Spring Training with the Red Sox. My excuse at the time was ‘it’s okay, I’m on my prescriptions’. Going back to Arizona and realizing where my life was headed, it was time. I was no fool to addiction. I checked myself into rehab.”
Now 18 months clean and sober, Jenks looks and feels like a brand new person. Happy to move forward with the life lessons he’s learned along the way.
“It’s like waking up all over again. I have done a lot of things in my life that don’t make me very proud, but I don’t regret them, because without them I wouldn’t be sitting here today sharing anything that I can with anybody. It made me who I am right now. For that, I am grateful.”
Jenks’ final surgery came in October 2013. He’s currently rehabbing and going through physical therapy, feeling as healthy as he has in a decade. After rehab, he’d like one more crack at the game he feels was ripped away from him.
Being back at SoxFest might just be the open door Jenks has been looking for. It’s been an eye-opening experience for the former fireball closer, an experience that’s forced Jenks to keep his emotions in check.
“Coming back here and getting the reception I got, it was just so heartwarming. I’ve choked up a couple of times. It’s like coming home again. When the time comes, whether it’s playing again or doing something else, whatever it might be, this will be the first organization I turn to. It’s like a family here, and I’m a part of that family.”
Ryan McGuffey is a Senior Producer of Original Content for Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @RyanMcGuffey