A white Range Rover rolled into the parking lot at 4:39 p.m. and out jumped three young boys looking for new hats, a 43-year-old pitcher looking for a renewable lease and Dr. Joe Chandler, trying to keep watch over all of them.
“In case my arm falls off, he’s here to put it back on,” Tom Glavine said Saturday.
Went to see John Smoltz pitch in Augusta the other day. Figured I might as well jump from Single-A to Triple-A Saturday to see Glavine try to defy odds in Lawrenceville. This should do it for the tour of impending Hall of Famers in the minors. Greg Maddux seems content in Las Vegas, playing golf and poker, which doesn’t require traveling with orthopedic surgeons.
Nine months after surgery for a torn flexor tendon and the usual late-career, pitcher’s HMO buffet – labrum, rotator cuff, bursa sac – Glavine was hoping Saturday all this was worth it. Didn’t look like it. After extensive rehab and a setback or two, he was owned by the Toledo Mud Hens, which is not the way a legend wants to end it. He threw two shutout innings, then was tagged for an RBI triple and a two-run homer in the third, before exiting for an ice bag.
There was some good news. Glavine had strength, just little control. On a lighter note, Clint Sammons’ three-run homer in the fourth got him off the hook. “That’s good — I won’t get my first minor-league loss in 20-something years,” he said.
He’s trying to keep it real. He’s encouraged but that’s it. He admitted before the game, “There’s some days it doesn’t feel great and I’m like, ‘You know, what are you doing this for?’ But I just think if I didn’t find out if I could do this, I’d be kicking myself. … Having had the surgery I had and putting in all the work, I just can’t find it in my heart to say no. I’ve got to find out.”
Some guys try to hang on too long. A boxer in Fayette County comes to mind. Fortunately, Glavine isn’t so deluded.
It’s easy to understand his desire to keep going. He left the Braves for New York in 2003 and never completely felt comfortable. He wanted to come back two seasons ago, but a deal never materialized. When he and the Braves finally got together last year, things didn’t go as well as hoped. He looked good for a month but soon faded, went on the disabled list three times and eventually shut it down in August.
This isn’t the way he wants to go out. Here’s hoping he doesn’t.
For whatever ill-feelings some fans incredibly still harbor against him for signing with the Mets or strike-time rhetoric, Glavine remains one of the classiest and most dedicated professional athletes any of us will ever see. In short: Get over it, people.
“I just want him to come back, pitch well and have a good time,” said Chandler, the Braves’ medical adviser and former longtime orthopedic surgeon, who rode to the game with him. “But regardless of what happens, I think he’s at peace with it.”
Eight-plus months of rehab will wear anybody down. Glavine has an acceptance level about retirement that wasn’t evident before.
“The way things have gone, I’m a little more open-minded to things happening,” he said. “I’m just in the mind-set of: I’m going to push it and try to go. If everything goes well and I can come back, great. If not, at least I tried.”
The three boys (two sons and a friend) had the run of the Gwinnett clubhouse. Chandler even threw them batting practice. (His post-game report: “My arm hurts.”)
Glavine hopes to be back pitching for the Braves in early June. Who knows? Maybe he could even go and face Smoltz in Boston.
“I thought about that,” he said early Saturday. “But I’ve just got to get through this first.”
No assumptions any more.