SAN FRANCISCO — On the night that yet another season spiraled out of his hands, Brandon Belt had an eerily prescient conversation with his hitting coach. Belt was on pace to approach 30 homers. A day earlier, he had tied his career-high by crushing his 18th. Hensley Meulens congratulated him and noted that he would easily surpass his previous best.
“Yeah,” Belt joked, “Unless I get a season-ending injury or something.”
A few hours later, Arizona Diamondbacks rookie Anthony Banda lost command of a curveball and drilled Belt on the side of the helmet. The first baseman went down right away. He hasn’t played since.
Belt, in a phone interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, acknowledged the obvious: His season almost certainly ended on August 4. He feels better with each passing day, but he is still dealing with lingering problems with his vestibular system and vision.
The Giants have just 20 games left and Belt is simply running out of time. This was Belt’s fourth documented concussion in the last eight years and third in the last four seasons, but he is not fearful about his future. It’s the opposite, actually. Belt is adamant that he will return next season at 100 percent.
“There are always going to be some questions about whether this has some long term effects, and hopefully it doesn’t,” Belt said. “But right now it’s not going to keep me from playing baseball. In the long run, I want to make sure I’m one-hundred-thousand percent ready to go when the season starts next year. That’s the long term outlook, and if I can get back this season it’s a bonus.”
Privately, Giants officials have acknowledged for several days that they do not expect Belt to return this season. Belt has been doing light rehab work, but doctors have not yet cleared him for baseball activities. He has more appointments in the coming days, but if his vision issues do not improve this week, the situation will become official.
“You’re getting close to a point of no return, I guess,” he said.
Belt has been through this before, with bad luck costing him chunks of two seasons. He missed 46 games in 2014 after getting hit by a Marco Scutaro throw in batting practice. The next year, Belt hit his head against an infielder’s knee while diving back into second. That September concussion ended his season.
This latest concussion was another fluke, but in an odd way, that was encouraging. Belt was at first concerned about his future, but doctors assured him that he would recover like he has the previous three times.
“It’s not like I’m repeatedly banging my head against something,” Belt said. “If that was the case, it might affect me more in the long term. This is more sporadic and the hits aren’t too terrible. Once I get over these concussions, they tell me that I won’t have to worry about them anymore.”
Belt did not have any setbacks after recovering from his previous concussions. He said the first couple of weeks this time were pretty rough, but all of the symptoms have dissipated except the vision issues. Joe Panik dealt with those last season and fully recovered. With the last two concussions, it took Belt eight weeks to get fully healthy.
“It’s not that I feel terrible, but it just takes a while to get this stuff to go away,” Belt said. “I wish it didn’t take me as long, but it does. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but it’s one of those things you can’t rush. This is not something that you can be just 95 percent on.”
As he waits to get back to 100 percent, Belt has tried to find ways to add to a schedule that’s usually filled with long plate appearances and scoops at first base. He was a vocal supporter of his hometown Lufkin Little League during their run through the Little League World Series. He has joined with fellow Texas residents Hunter Pence and Mark Melancon to offer support after Hurricane Harvey. Most of Belt’s hours are spent playing with his young son, Greyson, and watching the team he still leads in homers.
"I'm really invested in these games," Belt said. "I watched Joe this past week and what he did was super impressive. Being at home is different, but watching them passes three hours every day."