PASADENA, Calif. – Not that long ago, Glendon Rusch went looking for a day he'd almost forgotten about.
He was sure it was out there; in one ballpark or another, breezy or calm, day or night.
He couldn't feel the baseball in his hand, but he knew it was there.
He couldn't sense the hitters, or feel the crowd on his neck, or see big ol' Derrek Lee standing over at first base, but he knew they were there.
So, he searched for that day.
September 4, 2006, it turned out. A day game at Wrigley Field, warm but not too warm, windy but nothing like the lake was capable of. The Pittsburgh Pirates played the Chicago Cubs, two teams grinding to stay out of last place, was all.
Rusch, a left-hander trying to get his earned-run average under a touchdown, pitched two scoreless innings. Ryan Doumit, the Pirates' young switch-hitter batting with the bases loaded, lined a pitch to Angel Pagan in right field, and that was the last baseball would see of Glendon Rusch for a while.
"I told my wife," Rusch said, "I couldn't remember the last time I pitched. I don't remember it at all.
"I had to look it up."
It was there, real as could be, a box score brought back to life.
Eight days after he left that mound, two months from his 32nd birthday, Rusch, suffering from terrible pain in his chest and shoulder, was diagnosed with a life-threatening blood clot in his right lung.
"You think of a million different things," he said Friday afternoon, sweat dried in stalactites on his neck. "None of them good."
Fourteen months later, on a sunny Southern California day in November, all that was left was good. He stood in a warehouse that adjoins the offices of West Coast Sports Management, pitched off a mound framed by batting-cage netting and 10 big-league scouts, and continued his comeback against the backdrop of a mural brushed into the back wall. It was Wrigley Field. A day game.
This, less than a week after Aaron Cook pitched Game 4 of the World Series. Cook was stricken by the same ailment – a pulmonary embolism – three years ago. Rusch was unaware they shared the experience – the fear, the resignation, the hope, the first steps back up the slope of a pitcher's mound – until a friend sent him a text message during the game.
Now he knows all about Cook, the blood clot that traveled from his right shoulder into his lung, the surgery to remove a rib, the year out of the game. Cook's record is 24-24 since, he pitched well in the Game 4 loss to the Boston Red Sox, and the Colorado Rockies just picked up his 2008 option for $4.5 million.
"It's good to know somebody had the same thing I did, came back and has had success," Rusch said.
Scouts from the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox, Florida Marlins, Oakland Athletics, Cincinnati Reds and Rockies strolled past Rusch on their way out.
Some shook his hand, congratulated him on his hard work, and wished him the best.
Rusch had thrown his fastball at 86 to 87 m.p.h., and kept it there through 60-some pitches. He'd thrown breaking balls and changeups.
A scout had nodded and said, "He looks like he's a couple weeks into spring training, and it's November."
Generally, the scouts were thrilled for an off-season workout that didn't involve the vagaries of a mended elbow or shoulder. Rusch was an average pitcher when healthy, a reliever or starter who'd work the middle innings or the end of a rotation, and looked again to be that pitcher. His arm was fine, and that's what they'd come to see, and what Rusch had hoped to show them.
And every scout left with documentation from USC's Keck School of Medicine and Dr. Donald Feinstein, clearing Rusch to pitch for them.
He's off the blood thinners – two injections and a pill a day – that made competition too risky. He's been cleared since early August to work out and throw as hard as his body would allow. He believes again that he'll pitch, that he'll play baseball, after enduring almost a year assuming he would not.
"My gut feeling most of that time was I wouldn't ever play the game," Rusch said. "I prepared myself for that. I didn't want to get my hopes up."
He was thinking of coaching. He'd spent the year being a husband to Kelley and a father to Cade, who is 4, and, as of a week ago, a father to Trevor.
"The hard part," he said, "was not being able to do anything."
He laughed, adding, "Twenty pounds later…"
Rusch has been throwing for two months. There will be at least another workout for scouts, maybe more. And he'll be in spring training somewhere. And out there somewhere is another game to replace the last one, the one he couldn't recall, blurred by hospitals and fears and long looks at what he might have missed out on, had this gone another way.
"I can't wait for that opportunity," he said, "to get back in a game and a competitive environment, especially at the major-league level. It would be a nice reward.
"I miss competing. I miss being on the mound. It's tough to walk away from that."
- Glendon Rusch