Some of the best stories in sports are the stories of comebacks. Most people are familiar with Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers, who was a highly touted prospect but fell victim to temptation and drugs. He worked as hard as he could and made it back to become one of MLB’s best players.
If you are a football fan, David Tyree’s name comes to mind. He was arrested and lost everything, becoming another athlete with a drug addiction. Yet he exorcised his demons and eventually had the huge “helmet catch” to help propel the New York Giants to a 17-14 Super Bowl victory in 2008 over the undefeated New England Patriots.
The so-called “rise up from the ashes” tale is one everyone enjoys – not just sports fans.
At 30, life in baseball has seemingly not yet begun for Mark Prior. Stemming back to his debut in 2002 with the Chicago Cubs, he has a history of injuries and he has never really been able to recover from them. You name it, Prior has been through it.
Hamstring injuries, Achilles injuries, shoulder surgery, elbow strains, a tweaked oblique, tendinitis – he has not had an easy career considering all these problems.
Although he has been hurt most of his career, he still holds a lifetime record of 42-29 with an ERA of 3.51, and he has fanned 757 lifetime batters. He was the second overall pick (in the first round) by the Cubs in the 2001 draft and he even made the National League All-Star team in 2003. That being said, he has the makings of a very good pitcher.
Now, if he can only find a way to translate it to his career without getting hurt.
Since leaving the Cubs after 2007, Prior has bounced around baseball. He tried to make it with the San Diego Padres, but never pitched a Major League game for them. He was released by the Padres in August of 2009 and in June of 2010 he went back to USC, where he had previously attended College.
He worked out for a Major League scout, but was deemed “just all right.”
In September of last year Prior agreed to a deal with an independent team – the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League. Exactly a month after he had agreed to play for the Flyers, he signed a Minor League contract to pitch for the Texas Rangers. He made it clear that he wanted to pitch for a Major League club and hoped to catch on with the Rangers in a middle or long relief role.
Obviously he didn’t get a roster spot on the Rangers, but that didn’t mean he was giving up.
This past off-season the Yankees signed Prior to a Minor League deal. He has only pitched one inning this spring- a perfect frame against the Detroit Tigers on Monday March 1. He has also been working out with the team consistently and hopes to accomplish what he didn’t with Texas – receive a spot in the bullpen as a middle or long reliever.
In a recent interview with the YES Network, Prior described his arm strength as “good” and stated that he needs to prove that he can stay healthy. One of his goals this spring is to show everyone what he is made of.
“I want to show everybody that I can stay healthy and I can still pitch,” he told YES. “I know how to pitch. My stuff may not be what it used to be, but it’s still good enough to get guys out at this level.”
Prior added that he wants to get comfortable pitching in games.
At the trade deadline last season, the Yankees acquired Kerry Wood, who was Prior’s teammate for five years on the Cubs. At one time the two were considered a “dynamic duo,” if you will, being the Cubs’ top tier starting pitchers. Like Prior, Wood sustained a number of injuries and analysts and fans questioned his ability to return from them and effectively pitch.
Wood proved to everyone that he can indeed still pitch, as he went 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA down the stretch for the Yankees. He was also instrumental in fortifying the Yankee bullpen, acting as the bridge to Mariano Rivera for the second half of 2010.
Prior was happy to see his former teammate succeed in pinstripes.
“I know Woody had a great time here, he really enjoyed himself here, and I think it revitalized him to continue on and keep playing,” he said.
“He pitched outstanding the last two months of the season for the Yankees and hopefully I can do just as good a job as he did.”
Everyone loves a comeback story. And this year Prior might be the guy the fans look at and say, “He’s the guy who rose above; the guy no one believed in, but he proved us wrong.”
The fans should be rooting for him. I am.