Where have you gone, Jason Lane?
JUN 11, 2014 12:12p ET
Silver linings being increasingly difficult to come by amid shutouts, strikeouts and more shutouts in a Padres season getting away, we come today with one plaintive question.
Where have you gone, Jason Lane?
Oh, baby, do we ever turn our lonely eyes to you. Wooo-wooo-wooo.
"Wasn't that great?" Padres manager Bud Black said after Lane's debut on the mound last week.
"Awesome," catcher Rene Rivera said.
Alas, the former Joltin' Jason was designated for assignment following two scoreless appearances last week totaling 4 1/3 innings. That's baseball, often as cruel as it is beautiful. Andrew Cashner was ready to return Saturday, so somebody had to be moved off the roster to make room.
Lane is 37 with more days in the back of the cart than in front of the horse. He's not exactly high on the Padres' depth chart. He doesn't exactly fit into their future. He cleared waivers and, on Tuesday, was outrighted back to Triple-A El Paso.
Which is perfect, really. Because every time someone has turned Lane away in this game, he comes back for more.
"When I converted to pitcher at 35, I thought, 'What am I doing waiting this long to convert?'" Lane was saying during a conversation last week. "Who does that?
"My next thought was that Jamie Moyer would give anything to be 35 again. Then he'd have another 14 years."
I don't know that Lane is going to become the next Moyer.
But I do know that no better story has appeared at Petco Park this year than Lane's arrival.
"It's funny," Lane says. "When I look at it, it doesn't make any sense on paper.
"But I had this belief that I could still play."
This is a guy who broke in with the Astros as an outfielder in 2002 and proceeded to smash 61 home runs over the next six seasons until he went from extra outfielder to the discard bin.
He homered in his first post-season at-bat in 2004 against the Braves, and he homered in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series.
In fact, he blasted 26 homers for Houston during that '05 season in 145 games, then hit 15 more in only 112 games in '06.
"It was always frustrating, because '05 was the only year I got consistent at-bats," he says.
It is the great regret of all players who are not given a chance to play regularly. What could I have done, if only?
Fair or no, Lane's window closed quickly. The Padres acquired him as a bat off the bench for the stretch run in '07, then released him. The Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Marlins each picked him up, and then cut him loose, over the next few years.
Three times, in desperate attempts to keep his flickering career pilot light from going out, he signed with independent league teams: The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2010, and the Sugar Land (Tex.) Skeeters in 2012 and 2013.
There were plenty of low points along the way. He unexpectedly lost his dad, Glenn, last June while he was pitching for Sugar Land.
"And going through a divorce and being released in 2010, that was really hard," he says.
That's when he signed with the Blue Crabs, after the Marlins released him toward the end, it turns out, of his outfield days. Late July that summer, staying with a host family in Maryland, scuffling on the field, badly missing his daughter (5), he finally decided: That's it.
"I thought, 'You know what? I'm going to go home for the rest of the summer. I know it won't look good next year when I try to sign, but I'm done,'" Lane says.
So he went into the house, showered and then picked up his cell phone to call his agent. As he held the phone in his hand ready to dial, it buzzed. It was Toronto's minor-league field coordinator, Doug Davis, asking, How would you like to come to Vegas? We need a first baseman.
"You know what?" Lane says of that invite to Triple-A. "I lit up like I had just gotten called up to the big leagues."
It was while he was playing for Las Vegas the next summer that Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers happened to be at a game in which Lane pitched, almost as a lark, in a mop-up role. Lane actually had pitched at the University of Southern California but broke his thumb before his senior season. So he put his pitching days behind him. Until. ...
Now, Towers liked what he saw, and invited Lane to Arizona's camp the next spring - as a pitcher.
"It's very fresh in my mind," he says of that homer. "I'd like to say it seems like yesterday, but when I start counting the years off. ..."
Aw, who's counting? In a game that propagates eternal youth, Lane is just starting anew again.
When Black called his number against the Pirates last Tuesday and he responded with 3 1/3 hitless innings (three strikeouts), you bet it was one of the most special moments of his big-league career.
"It's certainly up there," he says. "Playing in the World Series and some of the things that happened in '05 were pretty special.
"But, in a different way, this is just as special, if not a little moreso because of the path I took to get there."
So often, isn't this the way it happens? We don't know what we have until it's taken away. And then, if we're fortunate enough and work hard enough to get it back, we treasure it all the more.
And so it was with Lane in his two appearances last week at the ripe young age of 37 (hey, his pitching arm is still only, like, 27). He heard from so many family members and friends he couldn't count them all. He received text messages from three thrilled former Astros teammates: Brad Ausmus, Chris Burke and Roy Oswalt.
Lane still leans on Oswalt some, phoning him from time to time asking for pitching insight. Oswalt watched his outing against the Pirates and texted: "Keep finishing your pitches. You looked good."
If there's one thing Lane does, as we've learned, it's finish. Even if his story ends here, it is a marvelous one.
Still, how cool would it be to see him return to the Padres bullpen - and succeed - before summerâs end?
"Though the journey has been tough, I've been doing what I love so it hasn't seemed like a grind," Lane says. "There have been low points, yes. It's been a hard-fought journey. But I'm doing what I love.
"For people to tell me they've been inspired by it, it's really a surprise to me. And it feels really good."
Longtime national columnist Scott Miller will be a weekly contributor to FOXSportsSanDiego.com, discussing the San Diego Padres and Major League Baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter at @ScottMillerBbl.