LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – He was alone with a bucket of balls, a target and his thoughts. It was well into March, and Mark Redman, still unemployed, couldn't help but wonder how, in an offseason when everyone cashed in a Powerball ticket, he somehow got the $1 scratch-off.
So he tried to focus on the target. When everyone else was in Florida and Arizona, Redman would wake up in Tulsa, Okla., head to his 6,700-square-foot basement, open the door to a 70-foot tunnel, step on the mound and pitch to batters that didn't exist.
Simulated games usually have at least a catcher. Not Redman's. He would toss eight warm-up pitches toward a screen, then began throwing like a real game. He counted bad pitches as hits and incorporated a few extras for foul balls. When he felt satisfied with his "inning," he walked to the end of the tunnel, picked up the balls, subtracted eight for the warm-ups and calculated his pitch count. And then he trudged back, did it three more times and, when it was over, checked the phone to make sure he hadn't missed the call offering him a job.
"When it's March 8, you're sitting there saying, 'How much longer do I wait for a major-league contract?' " Redman said. "Teams can understand you're throwing and preparing, but is that enough?"
Baseball's owners spent more than $1.65 billion this offseason, and Mark Redman – a 33-year-old, 6-foot-5, 245-pound, left-handed journeyman who has spent eight years in the big leagues because teams are generally thrilled with league-average pitchers, and he is mediocrity clothed – couldn't get a penny of it. As pitchers with lesser resumes than his snagged multiyear contracts, Redman resolved to hold out until he got his. Because he had to, right?
Perhaps most comparable to Redman is Jason Marquis. Their career ratios per nine innings are practically identical: strikeouts (Redman's 5.47 to Marquis' 5.46), hits (9.72 to 9.37), walks (2.92 to 3.48) and home runs (1.00 to 1.29). Both will induce between 45 and 50 percent ground-ball outs. Both were awful last season – Redman's All-Star appearance notwithstanding. Their ERA+ – earned-run average compared to the league, with 100 being average – are both in the mid-90s. The only thing that separates the two is five years in age and a few miles per hour on the fastball for Marquis, advantages offset by Redman's left-handedness and deft changeup.
The Chicago Cubs gave Marquis three years at $21 million.
And by the time Marquis signed right after the winter meetings, the market had slowed and Redman's prospects had dimmed. He didn't understand. He asked his agent, Casey Close, what had happened. Close didn't have a good answer.
"I panicked, sure," Redman said. "Then I realized all these years of what I've done had to stand for something. If we were open earlier to minor-league contracts, we would've had 15 teams. It wasn't greed or pride. If you're on a minor-league contract and you take a line drive and it shatters your shin, you're out. You're not making the team."
Redman thought back to last spring. After a stretching session, someone extended a hand to help him stand up. His left knee was wrenched awkwardly. He missed six weeks.
The rest of the year with the Royals was like awaiting the end of a prison sentence. After winning a World Series with Florida in 2003, he signed a three-year deal with Oakland. The A's traded him to Pittsburgh after the 2004 season, and the Pirates dealt him after '05 to Kansas City, his fifth team in five years.
"I've been on both ends," Redman said. "It's not tough to see where you'd rather be."
So if Redman was going to sign a minor-league deal, it wouldn't be with Washington or Florida, which could both use a veteran starter. He liked the Atlanta Braves and asked Close to keep in touch with them, and, as luck would have it, Mike Hampton strained an oblique March 8. The next day, Redman signed a minor-league deal that would pay him $750,000 if he made the big-league roster, with another $500,000 possible in incentives.
And on March 10, the Braves needed Redman to start. There were no direct flights from Tulsa to the Orlando area, so he went through Detroit. After almost missing the connection, Redman landed around 2 a.m. His license had expired, so no one would rent him a car. He made it to his hotel at 4 a.m. Five hours later, Braves assistant general manager Frank Wren called just to make sure he had arrived.
That afternoon, Redman threw his first pitch to a real person in months. He lasted three innings and looked good. His ERA for the spring is 4.50, which sounds about right. Manager Bobby Cox said Redman will make the Braves' roster, probably as their No. 4 starter.
"I want to be another of their great moves," Redman said. "Sometimes, you'll look at their roster in the middle of the season, and say, 'Why didn't we get that guy?' They're notorious for discreet, brilliant moves. I want people to ask: 'How did this guy pass all the way through?'
"You could have sour grapes or be motivated. I don't want to prove anyone wrong exactly. I just want to change the perception about me."
Now Redman has his chance. He can only hope that $1 scratch-off is enough to buy him a Powerball ticket to cash in like everyone else.