(Eds: Adds background, quotes. With AP Photos.)By ARNIE STAPLETONAP Sports Writer
Even though he’ll open his mailbox later this year to find his AARP card, Jamie Moyer swears he doesn’t feel old.
The crafty left-hander hasn’t looked the least bit creaky while embarking on a comeback at age 49 from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow that sidelined him all of last season.
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After spending last summer serving as an ESPN analyst and spending quality time with his wife and eight children, Moyer is trying to make the Colorado Rockies’ roster this spring – and he’s showing so far that he can still keep up with the kids.
”I still believe I can do this,” said Moyer, who pitched two scoreless innings against San Francisco on Wednesday in his first outing in 18 months. ”Now, after having the surgery, it’s kind of like proving something to myself. Can I still go out and run around with these kids and compete? I think I can. But, you know, this spring will determine that.”
If Moyer makes the team, he’ll become the fifth pitcher to play in the majors for a quarter-century or more. Nolan Ryan, whom he counts as one of his best friends and greatest influences, holds the record, having pitched for 27 seasons.
”I don’t really view this as a pressure situation because I feel like I’ve come to spring training every year in my career fighting,” Moyer said. ”Because once you get into the season, that’s what you’re doing.”
By returning to the majors, Moyer would become baseball’s active leader in wins with 267 and he would be the oldest player in the game that has had a grip on him since he first picked up a ball and a mitt in the 1960s.
Moyer doesn’t make a big deal about the number of candles on his birthday cake.
After all, ”I have a new arm,” he said. ”It’s like when you get something new, it’s that feeling.”
Moyer, who spent his last 4 1/2 seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, said he needed this opportunity to prove to himself, more than anything, that he either still has it or he doesn’t.
”If I never came back, I feel like I’d wonder for the rest of my life,” he said.
”And you know what? If there’s not a spot for me here, there may be a spot somewhere else,” Moyer added. ”My first goal, though, is to make this team.”
Moyer’s longevity and drive is inspiring his teammates.
”It’s awesome, it’s incredible,” said Jason Giambi, a relative youngster at 41. ”I think it’s a great inspiration for some of these young kids to see, that if you work hard and you really love the game, this game will find a place for you.”
Last year was the first summer in the last 40 years that Moyer didn’t pitch.
”It was actually fun,” he said. ”I got to do a lot of things that I had never done before, barbecue, got to kids’ activities in the summer. And I’ll be honest with you, it was tough to come to spring training. It was. I was very anxious for it, but it was tough leaving home because I’d been home for a year and a half.”
Moyer and his wife, Karen, have eight children, ranging in age from 5 to 20. The eldest, Dillon, is a middle infielder who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins but chose to attend California-Irvine instead.
When Moyer called him to say he had signed with the Rockies and wouldn’t be able to make any of his games if he makes the roster, Dillon responded with a resounding, ”Great!”
The Rockies have added plenty of experience to the roster this winter to change the clubhouse culture. Michael Cuddyer (32), Ramon Hernandez (35) and Casey Blake (38) join Todd Helton (38) and Giambi in serving as elder statesmen for a team full of up-and-comers.
Manager Jim Tracy thinks Moyer could serve the same purpose with the young stable of promising pitchers.
”He didn’t show up to see how many guys he could strike out. He came here to work at his craft, keep the ball off the barrel of the bat,” Tracy said. ”He came here to make a team, that’s what he came here to do. But there’s a way he goes about it, a tempo to his pitching, getting the ball in play as quickly as possible, preserving pitches. We’ve got young guys on this staff that really need to learn that.”
Moyer doesn’t overpower anybody, he beats batters with his brain.
”Sure, yeah, when you throw 82 mph, you have to be” that way, Cuddyer said. ”You have to figure out ways to get guys out. Because, to be honest, your stuff’s not going to do it. And that’s what this game is all about, the game is about getting people out. The game is about figuring out ways to keep them from scoring, not panicking in situations where you get yourself in a jam.
”And after years of him playing, he’s learned how to do that, he’s learned how to minimize damage and get out of situations if he gets himself into one.”
Moyer has made some concessions to age, though not many.
”Yeah, I’m old. I’m 49. I can’t go run with these guys,” he said. ”`All right, go run a mile and run it in under seven minutes.’ You know what, if I did it, for the next two days, I’d be hanging.”
Whether he makes the team or not, Moyer has already had an impact on the Rockies by taking young pitchers under his wing the way Rick Sutcliffe and Scott Sanderson did for him.
Right-hander Alex White, who came over from Cleveland in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade last year, also picks Moyer’s brain every chance he gets.
”I’ve gone to him with a couple of questions, just normal pitching questions, and he’s had all the time in the world and all the answers. He knows what he’s talking about.”
The position players are equally impressed.
”He’s never really lost sight of what kind of pitcher he was – or is,” Giambi said. ”And because of that, it’s kept him in the game a long time because he never worried that he didn’t throw 95, he just got good at his craft.”