BOSTON (CBS) — An emotional Craig Kimbrel returned to Red Sox Spring Training on Monday, ready to get back to baseball.

He’ll be throwing his fireballs soon enough, trying to lock down saves for the Red Sox in less than two weeks. But baseball is not at the front of the Boston closer’s mind right now. His main concern is the health of his four-and-a-half-month-old daughter, Lydia Joy, who remains at Boston Children’s Hospital after undergoing a second heart surgery three weeks ago.

Kimbrel reported to Fort Myers, Florida with his Red Sox teammates at the start of Spring Training, but returned to Boston to be with his wife and daughter for the surgery. He’s spent day and night at Boston Children’s since, receiving a crash course on his infant daughter’s anatomy and recovery ahead. He occasionally stepped out to get in a quick workout at Babson College, and even threw some side sessions to prepare for the upcoming season. He said on Monday that he will be ready for Opening Day, which is now just 10 days away.

It’s been a tough road for the family to get to where they are now, but Kimbrel said Lydia is recovering well. She’s now on stage two of a three-step process, and will have to undergo another heart surgery when she is three or four years old to “straighten up her anatomy.” Kimbrel said they’ll be in and out of Boston Children’s for her whole life.

But things are going well enough that Kimbrel felt comfortable to rejoin the Red Sox for the rest of Spring Training. He met with reporters down in Fort Myers on Monday, fighting back tears for much of the 10 minutes he spoke. Kimbrel thanked the team at Boston Children’s and the Red Sox for their support throughout this difficult time.

“There’s no denying it’s been the toughest thing we’ve ever been through. But we’ve been in the right place,” he said. “I can’t say enough about how amazing Boston Children’s Hospital has been. The nurses, the doctors, they’ve been absolutely amazing in helping us through this process and helping more with me and Ashley, because we know Lydia is taken care of. They’ve been absolutely amazing.

“In the last week her recovery has been unbelievable and she’s showing great signs. We’re very blessed and we want to thank the Red Sox and [manager] Alex [Cora] for understanding they’ve been through this and working with us. It’s been tough, I can say that,” added Kimbrel. “We’ve definitely, me and my wife, we’ve had each other and we’ve had our family, we’ve had a great support. Everyone is sending out prayers that have definitely been heard.

gettyimages 670821282 e1494538396844 With Young Daughters Health Improving, Craig Kimbrel Makes Emotional Return To Red Sox

Craig Kimbrel (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

“She’s in a good, comfortable place for me to be down here,” he said of Lydia. “If she wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”

Kimbrel hopes that living a nightmare that every parent fears will only make his family stronger, and he wants to use his public profile to help others in need of support.

“It’s been hard. But for every hard or tough thing we go through in life, there is something to be learned from it. We’re going to try to let this make us better,” he said. “We love that girl more than anything. God gave me this ability to play baseball. If it wasn’t for this game we wouldn’t be in Boston and have this care. She’s on the way up. Just two days ago we were pushing her around in a stroller and she was close to being back to herself. It’s encouraging and very unbelievable to see.

“This is the hand we’ve been dealt. God has allowed us to handle this. It’s not something that is going to be easy, but something we have to stay strong for, because she sure is,” added Kimbrel.


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