Eight months short of his 50th birthday, former Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer is trying to get back to the big leagues. He's in the Colorado Rockies' camp as a nonroster invitee.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On a sun-splashed Friday afternoon, Jamie Moyer, wearing his familiar No. 50 and pushing 50 years old, stared in to catcher Wilin Rosario for the sign.
For the first time in more than a year, Moyer was back at the office — on the pitching mound, facing live hitting again.
“I was a little anxious. I hadn’t been out there for a while. It was a little uncomfortable, a little weird,” Moyer said. “Then I threw a few pitches, and I was back on the bike again. I’m pleased with today. I’m not excited about it, but I’m pleased.”
After undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left arm in December 2010, after all the torture of rehabilitation, after throwing three bullpen sessions last fall as he auditioned for big-league scouts, Moyer threw like, well, Jamie Moyer on Friday, all movement and location. He pitched to contact and wiggled out of trouble.
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Eight months short of his 50th birthday, Jamie Moyer is trying to get back to the big leagues. He’s in the Colorado Rockies’ camp as a nonroster invitee.
He has spent half his life pitching in the big leagues. The Rockies are his ninth organization. Still, Moyer said he felt like he was a rookie all over again, trying to impress the parent club, trying to make a big-league roster.
He said he isn’t chasing Satchel Paige, isn’t trying to make a point that age is just a number. He just wants to pitch and stay healthy, and when he leaves the game, he doesn’t want to do it with his arm in a sling.
“When I was hurt I kept thinking that if I could write it out, the way I was leaving the game wasn’t how I would have wanted to write it,” Moyer said in the Rockies’ plush clubhouse at Salt River Fields. “If I didn’t come back I think I’d wonder for the rest of my life. I feel like I can still compete. Now I just have to slowly chip the rust away. This is my opportunity to showcase myself, and my first goal is to make this team.”
In his season debut in a Rockies intrasquad game, pitching against hitters half his age, Moyer threw 42 pitches in two innings, allowed three hits, a run and struck out one.
He said he felt great.
“This was a huge hurdle, and I got over it,” he said. “I think it’s there now. Today (the worry over) this arm thing is over. Today I felt like I could have kept going.”
Then, knocking on the fake wooden wall of his locker stall, Moyer said, “I have not had any kind of a setback in this whole process.”
In fact, Moyer said he feels as if he’s pitching with a “brand-new arm.”
“When I threw for teams in the fall, I felt so good I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is kind of scary,’ ” he said. “It was amazing. It felt like when you buy anything new. That kind of feeling. I had a new arm.”
His quest is the most inspiring story of the Cactus League. In fact, the only person who doesn’t think Jamie Moyer’s story is remarkable is Jamie Moyer.
In 1992, after he was sent down to Class AAA Toledo, his father-in-law, Digger Phelps, suggested it was time Moyer got a real job. Twenty years later, Moyer’s still pitching.
“I look at this as my job,” he said. “This is my livelihood. Last summer was the first summer since I was 8 years old that I didn’t play baseball. Forty years of my life in the summertime have been spent playing baseball.”
Moyer won 145 games for the Mariners. He has won 103 games since he turned 40. In 2006, his last year with the Mariners, he was seriously considering retirement before the M’s traded him to Philadelphia. He was 56-40 with the Phillies, winning 16 games in their 2008 championship season.
He is the oldest pitcher to start an NLCS game and the oldest pitcher to throw a shutout. He has thrown shutouts in four decades, won 267 games and pitched in 686 games. If Moyer makes the Rockies, the new Marlins stadium in Miami will be the 50th big-league park in which he has pitched.
“Having the good fortune to be around this long, those things happen, but that’s not why I’m doing this,” Moyer said. “That’s for you guys to research. I don’t think pitching until I’m 50 is the driving force behind this. The main thing for me is that I still believe I can do this.
“Maybe when I’m a little older I’ll look back on some of those things and say, ‘That was pretty cool.’ But if I get caught up in that now I would lose track of what I’m doing. There will be a time and a place for all of that. I think now it’s about proving something to myself.”
Moyer threw a batting-practice fastball to Tyler Colvin, who lunged at the pitch and nubbed a ball in front of the mound. Quickly, Moyer jumped to toward the ball and threw out Colvin by a step.
It was a purpose pitch designed to put Colvin off balance. This is what Moyer has missed. The chess match of baseball, the science of the game, the cerebral competition. Moyer always has been a professorial pitcher.
“I am who I am,” Moyer said. “I’m going to give up hits. I’m going to give up runs. My feeling is, I have to minimize runs scored in an inning and rely on my defense. I have to repeat pitches. I have to change speeds. I’m just hoping I can do my job and fit into the situation. Can I still go out and compete with the kids? I think I can.”
That’s what this month will determine for middle-aged marvel Jamie Moyer.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org