ST. LOUIS — The 40-year-old closer who saved 300 games in the big leagues carefully watched the kid on the mound.
“Your whole body is over here,” Jason Isringhausen said, stepping to the left of the red dirt hill to stand in the spot where the kid’s follow-through had stopped.
The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville pitcher prepared to throw again. This time, Isringhausen hovered behind him, a physical reminder that the kid, a right-hander with a baby face, should keep his momentum moving forward instead of forward and to one side.
“Better,” Isringhausen said when the catchers mitt popped.
The two moved on, first trying to stop the way the kid jerked his head upon release, then tweaking the break on a curve. Their session ended with a fist bump between coach and player.
After grabbing a handful of sunflower seeds from the dugout, Isringhausen had time to explain why he was here, dressed in a full baseball uniform, a half hour before SIUE played St. Louis University on Tuesday night.
“We’re trying to prepare these guys, mentally, so they can succeed on the baseball field and off,” the volunteer pitching coach said. “It’s all about persevering, not giving up, and having that fire down in the belly that wants to compete. You’ve got to have that no matter what you do in life.”
And that right there pretty much sums up Isringhausen. He’s a man who has accomplished plenty in this game, but still flat out refuses to walk away. He knows he makes people wonder why he won’t call it quits, and he laughs at the thought of doing so. See, this coaching stuff is rewarding, but there’s still something bigger on Isringhausen’s mind. He wants to pitch in the major leagues again.
“You don’t ever want to quit,” he said. “Those couple of years where I got hurt, I wanted to come back and prove to myself that I could still get people out. That way, I could leave on my terms. As of last year, I left on my terms. So, if it never happens again, I’m perfectly happy.”
Then he pauses, and smiles, and says.
“But, if that opportunity is there, I’d be happy to jump at it, too.”
And why not? After all, he made a career out of beating the odds.
He transitioned from starter to closer and outran the cloud of pressure that came along with being a member of Generation K — the name given to a group of up and coming pitching prospects the New York Mets had in the mid-1990s.
Through 16 years, a handful of teams and more than $56 million in contract earnings, Isringhausen won a World Series, went to two All-Star games and had 30 or more saves in a season seven times, including a National League best 47 with the Cardinals in 2004.
Despite three Tommy John surgeries, he continued to come back. His 300th save — a feat just 23 other pitchers have accomplished — came with the Mets in August 2011. Then, as a 39-year-old, he signed a short-term contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and pitched 45 2/3 innings of relief last season.
People said he retired after that. That’s not true. Rather, Isringhausen would like to get back in. He knows it’s unlikely. But he also knows pitchers get injured during the season, and injuries sometimes cause teams to make additions.
“It’s straight limbo,” Isringhausen said. “I haven’t heard anything, which is good, in a way, because nobody is getting hurt. I don’t want to see anybody get hurt. But I know, sooner or later, at some point down the line, if somebody gets hurt, they may need an experienced arm to come in.”
He’s got time to wait. There’s a college baseball season to coach. After that ends, he’s agreed to join FOX Sports Midwest as a baseball analyst. Those plans, however, would take a back seat to playing again. He says he throws a baseball every day.
“Come All-Star break, if nothing happens, then I’ll kind of push everything to the side and realize it’s over,” Isringhausen said. “I’ll try to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
So, that means he’ll officially retire, right?
“I may never sign the papers,” he said.
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