OAKLAND — Travis Buck reappeared in the A's clubhouse Tuesday night. He was smiling wide. He laughed easily. His head was clear.
Don't underestimate the significance of that last detail.
"As much as I hate to say it, something like this had to happen," Buck said Tuesday before making his first appearance in the A's lineup since June 11. "Most guys go through the minors, and they have a year where they really struggle, and a lot of things don't go right.
"It hadn't happened to me. And it happened to happen to me in a year where I was up here. So to get through it, I proved a lot to myself, and it's only going to help me."
Buck was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento on Tuesday afternoon — missing the River Cats' one-game showdown that they won 4-1 over the New York Yankees affiliate Scranton Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) for the Triple-A championship.
But Buck contributed heavily to the A's 8-1 win over the Angels at McAfee Coliseum, going 2-for-4, getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded for one of his two RBI and stealing a base.
He hit sixth, manned right field and likely will get a significant look during the A's final 12 games. Yet, it's not so much what Buck does with the final two weeks of the A's season that will leave a lasting impression entering 2009 as what he has endured in 2008.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him play," A's manager Bob Geren said. "He had a lot of time off, and when he came back, he played well and helped Sacramento win the (Pacific Coast League) championship. He had a rough start this year, but that's behind him."
Well, a rough start and a rough middle. Buck's travails started with an 0-for-5, two-strikeout night in the A's opener vs. the Boston Red Sox in Tokyo. Soon 0-for-5 morphed into 0-for-22, and his season snowballed from there. He went on the disabled list with shin splints on April 19 after a 10-for-65 (.154) start and was sent to Sacramento after being activated on May 8. Three weeks later, he was recalled and went 7-for-41 (.170) before being sent out again.
"I put way too much pressure on myself, pressure that didn't need to be there," said Buck, who became a focal point after the trades of Nick Swisher and Mark Kotsay. "I was probably trying to be somebody I wasn't. It just shows that if you're not who you are, then you're not going to have any success at the major-league level or probably anywhere."
Buck said his mind is free and clear of such thoughts these days. But even more important, it's clear of the postconcussion syndrome symptoms he endured after a running into a railing on the outfield wall at Sacramento's Raley Field in June.
Buck missed three weeks after that incident, returned to play 16 games, then went back on the disabled list when he developed vertigo.
He said he spent more than a couple weeks unable to get out of bed.
"It's the scariest thing I've ever had," he said. "That's when I was at the point where I wasn't dealing with the rest of my career but with the rest of my life."
He ultimately returned to Sacramento's active roster on Aug. 29 and went 4-for-10 over the final three regular-season games, capping his Triple-A season at .337. He then went 10-for-32 with a home run and four RBI in the River Cats' eight playoff games.
Where that leaves him in the grand scope of next season will be sorted out over the winter and next spring. But members of A's management have said throughout the year that Buck remains a big part of the team's plans. Buck, for his part, isn't thinking small, either.
"I'm not going to say it was a lost year at all," he said. "Everything I went through is going to make me better. There's no doubt about it."
Contact Rick Hurd at email@example.com.