Hampton hoping to make triumphant return to mound
Originally Published: March 6, 2008By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It was the night before the first day of the Atlanta Braves' spring-training camp. And as Mike Hampton lay in bed, forcing his eyes to close, his brain kept asking the same question:Why couldn't he sleep? It was his 18th spring training. His 18th. So there was a time in this man's life that this would not have felt like the most nerve-racking day (or night) of the year. But that time wasn't this time. So he fussed, stirred, tossed, turned. Even lectured himself.
"I'm like, 'C'mon, dude, you've done this before. It's not your first time,'" Mike Hampton says, laughing. There are occasions in all our lives, however, when the things we've done forever take on new meaning. And for a certain 35-year-old left-hander riding down that comeback expressway, this spring training is one of those occasions. This is going to be the year, Mike Hampton keeps telling himself, when he can stuff all his troubles into the ancient-history books. When a pitcher's mound will wait for him every five days. When he can do what once seemed so routine -- 32 or 33 starts, 200 innings, double-figure wins. What he's attempting to do, though, is tougher, more unprecedented than he would ever guess. Miss two full seasons, then come back -- at his age -- to rattle off 10 or 12 or 15 wins? Almost never happens. Matter of fact, it hasn't happened in more than 60 years. Want to guess the last pitcher, age 35 or older, who won 10 games or more after being out for two years? Good luck. The answer, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Schoolboy Rowe, who went 11-4 for the 1946 Phillies after missing all of 1944 and 1945. Except he hadn't even been hurt. Joined the Navy during World War II. So no wonder you don't hear the Braves filling up any notebooks this spring with predictions about all the games Hampton is going to win, no matter how many scoreless innings he piles on top of the two he unfurled in his first start of the spring. After all they've seen, and all he's been through, they'll just take what they get. Whatever that is. "There's clearly nothing wrong with his arm, based on what we've seen, that would keep him from being a real quality major league pitcher still," says GM Frank Wren. "So we're just going to leave it at that." But, the good news is, Hampton has managed to make it through almost three weeks of spring training without an ache, a pain, a twitch or a tweak. And even that feels practically miraculous at this point. These past 2½ years, his career has felt like a TV version of someone else's life. But what would we call it? "Mike's Anatomy?" ... "Atlanta Hope?" ... "Without a Trace?" It's been more than 900 days since Mike Hampton pitched in a real major league baseball game. Since the last time he won a game, Josh Beckett has won 40 games. Since the last time he even threw a pitch that counted, Livan Hernandez has thrown more than 7,000 pitches. Just to recap the lowlights on Hampton's medical chart, he missed the last month and a half of the 2005 season with elbow issues. ... He was out the entire 2006 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. ... He missed the whole 2007 season with a torn tendon in his elbow. ... He couldn't even make it through his first frigging inning of winter ball in Mexico last November without popping his hamstring. Hey, at least he hasn't come down with bird flu. ... Yet. He's been a certifiable medical nightmare, all right. And Mike Hampton is the first to admit he hasn't been anybody's idea of a model patient. "You know how everybody says, 'The biggest thing is don't get too high and don't get too low?' Well, I haven't done a good job of that," he says. "I have not done a good job of that at all."
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackMike Hampton last appeared in a major league game on Aug. 19, 2005.
I think I've been from the South Pole to the North Pole, in an emotional sense.
What I guess I'd like to do is come back, win the World Series this year, pitch Game 7 ... and then play another 10 years.