SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The Chicago Cubs had seen all they needed to see from the veteran pitcher.
They had drafted him, traded him, and brought him back again as a free agent. They knew him well, but just didn’t see a place for the 29-year-old left-hander in their rotation. So in the final week of spring training, they cut him loose.
The year was 1992, and the pitcher was Jamie Moyer.
“We were saying ‘it’s time to get a real job,’ ” says Karen Moyer, Jamie’s wife of 24 years.
The Moyers never quite got around to that job hunt. Jamie spent the rest of the 1992 season in the minor leagues, and went on to pitch in the majors for the next 18 years, bouncing from Baltimore to Boston, Seattle to Philadelphia. He won 267 games and compiled a 4.24 ERA over the course of his 24-year career, and earned a World Series ring as a member of the 2008 Phillies — a fine resume that would make any pitcher proud.
So when an elbow injury brought a sudden and premature end to his 2010 season, and a full year of rehabilitation stared him in the face, it only seemed sensible that this was the end. Time to hang up the cleats and finally prepare for the next stage of his career.
If you think that, you don’t know Jamie Moyer.
And so Jamie Moyer finds himself at Colorado Rockies spring training camp in Scottsdale, Ariz. He’s a 49-year-old hoping to beat out a host of much younger athletes — some young enough to be his sons — to earn yet another season playing the game he loves.
“My motivation is that I want to play,” says Jamie. “I don’t think I’d be standing here if I didn’t think I could play. Having this opportunity, I still feel like I can contribute.”
|Moyer discusses his favorite career moments|
“EVERY DAY YOU ARE LEARNING SOMETHING”
When you think professional athlete, a picture of Moyer doesn’t leap to mind. He’s not particularly big, at 6-foot and about 170 pounds. He doesn’t run fast or jump high, and by the standards of major league pitching, he doesn’t throw hard.
Stephen Strasburg, the rocket-armed young talent of the Washington Nationals, is the type that scouts look for, dazzling hitters with a fastball in the high-90s and a changeup that clocks in around 90 mph.
Dave Cruz / NBCSports.com contributor
Jamie Moyer isn't intimidated by competing against much younger players. "I think your mind allows thing to be what they are," he says. "If you allow yourself to be intimidated, then you're intimidated."
So if you think it’s improbable that Moyer could successfully pitch against the best baseball players on the planet at age 49, keep in mind that he’s been proving scouts wrong and outsmarting hitters his whole career.
Moyer admits he was probably intimidated as a 23-year-old rookie with the 1986 Cubs, facing legendary sluggers like Dave Winfield and Dave Parker — “two quite large human beings who were quite good at what they did.” He knew he wasn’t going to blow these hitters away. But gradually, he figured out that, more often than not, he could get hitters out.
“I think your mind allows things to be what they are,” Moyer says. “If you allow yourself to be intimidated, then you’re intimidated. You’ve got to focus on the task at hand. I think that’s what I’ve learned over the course of my career. … If I know in a couple days then I have a way to prepare for it. If it’s happening on the fly, then I have to adjust on the fly, because if you don’t the game will pass you by.”
|Moyer on how he can help the Rockies win|
Moyer learned to study hitters. To look for tendencies and patterns, weaknesses he could use to his advantage. He might not embarrass them with blazing fastballs, but he could keep them off balance and frustrate them with an assortment of fluttering pitches that always seemed to miss the sweet spot, turning would-be hits into harmless fly balls or soft grounders.
|Rockies manager Jim Tracy on what Jamie Moyer brings to a team|
“He’s a very, very intelligent guy,” says Rockies manager Jim Tracy. “He’s a student, even while he’s pitching. He studies swings, he goes from count to count. He’s gathering information that gives him the direction he’s going to go with the next pitch. He always gives the impression that he’s one pitch ahead of the guy that he’s pitching against.”
Seattle catcher Miguel Olivo, a teammate of Moyer’s with the Mariners from 2004-05, echoes Tracy: “He’s there for a reason, because he’s smart and he knows how to pitch. He’s still learning. He told me one day, ‘No matter where you are, every day you are learning something.’
“He’s a good man, too,” Olivo continued. “He’s got a great family. I know Jamie Moyer a little bit, and my family got to know his family. He’s amazing. I hope he can make it.”
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