Moyer is one of several retired players invited by GM Jerry Dipoto to serve as a guest instructor, and it’s been a mutually beneficial experience.
PEORIA, Ariz. – Several weeks ago, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto phoned Jamie Moyer and said, “I’d like to invite you to camp.”
Moyer replied, “Is that as a player, or in another capacity?”
He was joking — mostly — because even Moyer, who in 2012 became the oldest pitcher to win a game in major-league history, knows that at age 53, his hurling days are over. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t kick the idea around in his head.
“I’ve got some aches and pains,’’ said Moyer, who underwent major ankle surgery a year and a half ago. “Mentally, I believe I could pitch. Physically, I don’t think I could do it. If I tried, I’d need two weeks off.”
But Moyer’s brain is as strong as it ever was, and that’s the capacity in which he’s making his first appearance in Mariners camp since they traded him to the Phillies in 2006. Moyer is one of several retired players invited by Dipoto to serve as a guest instructor, and it’s been a mutually beneficial experience.
“This has been fun,’’ Moyer said. “It’s a totally different experience for me. I’ve never been on this side.”
Moyer was on the other side for 25 seasons, from 1986 to 2012, winning 269 games — the final one for the Rockies at age 49 — more through guile and preparation than stuff. That’s why he is a natural on the coaching end, and seemed more than open to pursuing that line of work.
Eventually. Though two of his sons are in minor-league camps — Dillon as a pitcher (converted from shortstop) with the Dodgers, Hutton as an infielder with the Angels, Jamie and wife Karen still have four young kids at home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., near San Diego. They range from age 12 to 9.
“This was kind of an open invitation,’’ he said. “It was kind of, dip your toe in the water, see how you like it and go from there.”
The verdict? Moyer loves it, and would be willing to work around his schedule to go on some special assignments during the season if the Mariners requested. His weeklong stint in Peoria ends Monday, and he’s been engaged and enthusiastic, though cognizant not to overstep the authority of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.
“I’m a visitor, so I’ve got to respect my boundaries,’’ Moyer said. “Mel’s been great. He said, ‘Just be yourself.’ ”
That’s meant standing behind Mariners pitchers as they throw their bullpen sessions, offering mechanical suggestions. It’s meant sitting in the dugout during games to assess their work. And it’s meant providing insight into the mental challenges of baseball on both the major- and minor-league side of the complex.
“You try to relate to them — when I had those struggles, here’s what I tried to do,’’ he said. “It’s not like I have the right answer, but it might enlighten them to say, ‘Hmm, I never thought about that.’ Sometimes, it’s just trying to challenge people to think outside the box a little bit.”
Moyer has the instant street cred that comes with a career that brought him two 20-win seasons, an All-Star appearance and a World Series title.
“Whether it’s pickoff moves, how you hold your glove in the stretch or how you attack hitters, he’s got like 25 years in the big leagues, which is unbelievable,’’ Mariners pitcher Mike Montgomery said. “ t’s pretty cool listening to him talk, and having him give me advice on different little things is pretty awesome.”
One tip Moyer gave Montgomery to help his changeup was to hold two balls in his hand, then take one away and see how the ball feels smaller.
“It’s little things like that I would have never thought about,’’ he said.
Moyer has also offered advice to James Paxton on his high fastball, which might seem incongruous considering Paxton throws heat and Moyer, uh, didn’t.
“He’s a smart guy and he knows the game,’’ Paxton said. “He ‘s watched enough that he knows how guys pitch that have the hard fastballs. It’s not just that he knows himself; he knows how to pitch with other stuff also. … I feel he can help everyone in here.”
I asked Moyer, who had a post-retirement stint as a Phillies broadcaster, if this was the first time he had put on a uniform since he hurled his last game. That occurred in Reno in early July of 2012, when he was hanging on with the Las Vegas 51s.
“Great question,’’ he mused. “I have to think about that one….(pause) I think it is.”
And there’s still something about having a uniform on, even as guest instructor, that tugs at a guy. Once a pitcher, always a pitcher. When Moyer was walking across the outfield in Maryvale the other day before the Mariners’ game with the Brewers, he had a strong sense of déjà vu.
“Mel and (bullpen coach) Mike Hampton were standing in the bullpen,’’ Moyer said. “I walked up to both of them and said, “I just got this crazy feeling – I want to pitch today.’ ‘’
Moyer told them he felt like he could do it, too – “but tomorrow, I’m not going to be able to move.”