When Mark Mulder retired in 2010 at age 32, it was begrudgingly. "I guess I have retired," he said. He guessed. Not exactly full of conviction.
Injuries had derailed his once-stellar career. He pitched in only 23 games from 2006 to 2008. After baseball, he transitioned into an analyst gig, talking baseball for ESPN. He's been doing that since 2011. Turns out that watching baseball made him realize he might be able to pitch again.
And thus, Mark Mulder has declared that he'll attempt a comeback in 2014.
ESPN's Jerry Crasnick gives us the news, including the unlikely inspiration that started Mulder on the comeback path:
[T]hings changed in October when Mulder watched Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez on TV and found something in Rodriguez's delivery that he could emulate. Mulder spent the month of November working himself into shape at a Phoenix-area facility run by former big-league catcher Chad Moeller, and recently threw off the mound for three unspecified teams near his home in Scottsdale.
He said scouts clocked his fastball at 89-90 mph. Now he's hoping to audition for more clubs and land an invitation to a spring training camp.
"I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am," Mulder said by phone Tuesday. "To be honest with you, I never anticipated this five or six weeks ago. It was just a flat-out fluke that came from me trying to imitate Paco Rodriguez in my living room."
Most people probably had the same first reaction. "Get The Big Three back together!" That, of course, is what Mulder and teammates Tim Hudson and Barry Zito were called when they starred for the Oakland A's in the early 2000s. Hudson just went back to the Bay Area, signing with the Giants. Zito is a free agent, who just finished up a stint with the Giants. C'mon, Brian Sabean, doesn't it sound like fun? What if Zito plays left field?
Mulder actually has another ex-teammate to partially thank for fueling his comeback attempt. That's Kyle Lohse, who played for the Cardinals with Mulder. More from Crasnick's story:
Mulder had always separated his hands at his delivery at his midsection, but tried raising them near his head similar to the way Rodriguez does. He became convinced he was onto something after playing catch with former Cardinals teammate Kyle Lohse on Oct. 27, when they were hanging out at a birthday party for their daughters. The two pitchers threw from a distance of 150-200 feet, and Mulder was encouraged when Lohse told him he looked like his former self.
"The best way to describe it is, the ball is coming out of my hand better now than at any point when I was in St. Louis," Mulder said. "I wouldn't be trying this is if I didn't think the stuff I was throwing was good enough [to pitch in the big leagues]."
As an ESPN analyst, Mulder probably has a better grip on reality than most retired ballplayers with dreams of comebacks. He's still just 36, far younger than you might think for someone who has been "retired" for three years. Can Mulder pull off a comeback? We'll wait and see, but we do know this: It'll be one heck of a story if he does.
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