March 7th, 2011
I’m back in Lakeland today, but the Tigers are on the road at Port St. Lucie to meet the Mets. Magglio Ordonez and Brennan Boesch are not on the trip, held back another day with a sore hamstring and back respectively. They worked out with the rest of the non-traveling team Monday morning.
I wouldn’t take their absence as any sign it’s more serious. The Tigers are like a lot of teams on this: When there’s any sort of nagging injury, it doesn’t make sense to put a player on a bus for close to three hours one way. It certainly won’t help the injury.
Interestingly, Don Kelly gets the start at second base today. Both Will Rhymes and Scott Sizemore are back here in Lakeland working out this morning.
- Clete Thomas, RF
- Andy Dirks, LF
- Jhonny Peralta, SS
- Victor Martinez, DH
- Brandon Inge, 3B
- Alex Avila, C
- Don Kelly, 2B
- Casper Wells, CF
- Scott Thorman, 1B
P: Brad Penny
When Matt Anderson was a Tiger years ago, he became known for his crazy ideas for what he’d do after baseball. He wanted to be an FBI agent, a local sheriff, a trucking career, and a farmer at some other point. He actually does own a working dairy farm in Kentucky, he says, though he’s more about clearing brush and cutting grass than milking cows.
After a couple years out of the game, though, he realized he doesn’t want to do anything but baseball. So he came back.
“I’m all baseball now,” he said Sunday morning. “I realized the awesomeness of being able to come do this, and I’m not trying to branch out into anything else. I’m just trying to do this. This is what my focus is. This is what I love to do, and I’m going to do this as long as I can, and then think about other stuff. …
“I’ve always loved baseball. I kind of got sidetracked a little bit, but now I’m on the Autobahn of baseball, so it’s cool.”
The last time Anderson pitched here was 2004, his final year in the Tigers organization. He was outrighted to Minor League camp early in the spring, and he spent the entire season at Triple-A Toledo to finish out the lucrative three-year contract he signed before the 2002 campaign. He made it to the Rockies in the summer of 2005, spent the next season in the Giants system and independent ball, then came back in 2008 for 15 games at Triple-A Charlotte with the White Sox. His last pitch, he said, came in the Puerto Rican Winter League a couple years ago.
“The last four or five years, it hasn’t been right,” he said. “My mind wasn’t right, and that would leave me not being prepared for the games, not being prepared for spring training, and just not having my body right. And then getting out there, my mind wasn’t right. I didn’t realize how awesome it is to be right until you’re not right.”
He’s 34 now, divorced with four kids, and that recognizable head of hair has some gray. And in hindsight, the divorce part had a bigger impact on him than he realized, trying to be a good dad from long distance.
But he’s still a freakishly good athlete, back in shape thanks to a good year of workouts, and he owns a mid-90s fastball again. And at the moment, he has a comeback attempt going with the Phillies, who invited him to minor-league camp but brought him along Sunday as an extra pitcher for their Major League spring game.
“It’s good, man,” Anderson said. “Arm feels great. I’m in awesome shape. Been working out at Fischer Sports all winter getting back in shape. I’m ready to rock and roll, man.”
He missed this, but he also missed being in a good frame of mind. When he took the mound in a game again last week, he said, he felt at peace. Just standing around and talking, he is a nonstop ball of energy, maybe even more than he was in his younger days.
“I went through a couple years of just straight depression,” he said. “I didn’t really realize I was in it. But getting on the other side of it, looking back, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is really cool, because I’ve got my old self back.’ It’s just fun to be around. It gives you a whole new perspective of it. It gives you a whole new understand, and you’re a lot more grateful for it. …
“I’m all baseball now. I realized the awesomeness of being able to come do this, and I’m not trying to branch out into anything else. I’m just trying to do this. This is what my focus is. This is what I love to do, and I’m going to do this as long as I can, and then think about other stuff.”
For at least Sunday, the Autobahn hit a slick spot. His second outing for the Phillies came in his old home camp, and while he didn’t give up a massive home run, the Tigers handed him a loss with three hits. The good news is that the velocity was back where he said it was, ranging 94-96 mph on the stadium radar gun. His last pitch, a Scott Thorman liner into right field, hit 96. He hit 99 on an earlier pitch according to the ballpark gun, but that appeared to be a misread. His arm angle appeared to be up and down, kind of like his last camp here, but he could hit the strike zone.
The results don’t really matter quite yet. The energy is clearly there. So is the confidence, wherever it comes from.
Ask him if he’ll ever hit 100 again, like he did so often before that bizarre latissimus dorsi injury under his arm in 2002, and you get this:
“Oh, I know I will — 100 percent. That’s easy. I’ve got a lot more than that.”
Or as he said at another point, “I’m going to erase that and put 105 in, because I feel like I’ve got even more than that in the tank. I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. The dedication I’ve put into it is awesome. My emotional is awesome.”
And yes, he knows he has to mix in the slider, which he did a couple times Sunday.
Ask him if he knows where this is leading, if he believes he can get back to the Majors, and it’s much the same:
“That’s totally my goal. My confidence is all there, I’m prepared and I know what I can do. Now it’s just basically the point of taking it one day at a time, being patient and letting everything fall into place.”
Even if it takes him back to Triple-A.
“I’m in it for the long run. This isn’t about today or tomorrow. This is about getting in baesball shape, getting where I need to be and being the best I can be. If it’s today, if it’s tomorrow, cool. If it’s a month from now, cool. But it’s going to happen. It’s definitely going to happen, and I’m excited. You haven’t seen the best from me yet, and it’s exciting.”
Sounds strange? You bet. But this is where Anderson needs to be if he’s going to do this. If most everyone else looks at him kind of funny about this, he has to be his biggest supporter. You wonder about it, but you also feel good he could get to this point, on a mound against Major Leaguers.
“I had to get my house in order basically, before I came back and did it like I want to do. Because I feel like I’ve got a lot left in me. I feel great. My body’s in great shape. I feel I can do this for a while and have a nice impact on the game. It’s just good to be in this position.”
It’s also good to hear his sense of humor again. You find more relievers now who can hit high 90s, maybe touch 100, than when Anderson came up. You don’t find that sense of humor as often, like when he was asked if he’d run into any familiar faces yet.
“I haven’t seen Inge yet,” he said, “but I saw a girl with his jersey on at a Target yesterday in Clearwater. So that’s cool. So I felt like I saw him.”
He really is serious about the comeback, or else he’d be back home or coaching his kids. But he gets the humor about it. And he also gets the irony. The man with so many other ideas came back to throwing a baseball as hard as he can for a living.
“I was going to do some dairy farming, but I figured my arm still feels good,” he said. “Might as well pitch more.”