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Marlins pitcher's desire is rekindled


By Juan C. Rodriguez

Staff Writer

Posted March 8 2004


JUPITER -- He felt the flickering for more than a year. It was like someone had held a glass over his pitching career until it snuffed the competitive flame.


Then 32, Scott Sanders looked at his calendar one mid-January day in 2002 and realized it was gone. Extinguished.


About a month before pitchers and catchers would begin reporting for spring training, Sanders had no desire to stretch or run or lift, much less throw.


"I could tell my heart wasn't in it," Sanders said before the Marlins' 6-1 Grapefruit League win over the Orioles at Roger Dean Stadium Sunday. "You hear the saying dead arm. I had a dead body."


A right-hander vying for a bullpen spot, Sanders couldn't feel more alive. He spent more than a year away from professional baseball before the Marlins signed him last May and assigned him to Triple-A Albuquerque. By season's end, he had totaled a team-high 110 strikeouts to go with a 7-5 record and 3.92 ERA.


The reward was an invitation to big-league camp and chance to return to the majors for the first time since 2000.


"The thing you need to see with somebody like that is if the competitive fire is still there and it was," said minor league pitching coordinator Dean Treanor, who managed Albuquerque last season. "He battled and pitched some awful good games down the stretch. As far as I'm concerned he's in the picture here."


The picture got hazy after the 1999 season. Sanders made a career-best 67 appearances for the Cubs, going 4-7 with a 5.52 ERA.


The following spring he found himself in Buffalo (Cleveland Indians), the first of four Triple-A affiliates Sanders would play for that season. He also logged innings at Edmonton (Angels), Calgary (Marlins), and Sacramento (Athletics).


In 2001, Sanders signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League. Though he enjoyed the culture and experience in general, it did not rekindle his desire for a major league encore.


Japanese teams carry 28 players, but only 25 can be active for a game. Like his fellow American pitchers, Sanders would not remain at the ballpark on days he was inactive. Relegated to relief duty toward season's end, Sanders missed the clubhouse atmosphere of the majors. In Japan, bullpens are located away from the playing field, forcing relievers to watch the game on TV.


"It was almost like spring training for the whole season," said Sanders, a native of Thibodaux, La. "In a way I felt like I was part of a team, but only when I pitched. It gave me a weird sense about baseball. I pitched in maybe 30 games and it was really only 30 games where I was into it."


All the while, Sanders struggled to hit 90 on the radar gun. During the 2000 season he noticed his arm required more recovery time. Sanders had no shoulder or elbow problems, only a growing malaise.


"My body didn't hurt," he said. "It was just tired."


Retirement afforded Sanders about a year's worth of rest. He moved the family to Southern California and took a job with his agent, Paul Cohen, working out prospective draft picks and preparing minor leaguers for spring training.


In the process his body and arm started feeling better. One Thursday morning last May he threw for the Marlins and by Thursday night he was back in professional baseball.


"I was still young and healthy," said Sanders, who's 34-45 with a 4.86 ERA in 235 big-league appearances (88 starts). "All I've known is baseball since I came out of college, almost 15 years now. You miss the cheers. You miss the boos. You miss the adrenaline, the clubhouse. I knew I would miss it, but I didn't know how much.


"At first, I didn't miss it at all. I'd go out to Dodger Stadium and watch my buddies pitch. Their wives would say, `Isn't it weird?'


"My body didn't feel good enough to try and go out there to succeed. Nobody wants to embarrass himself. Once I started feeling good, the way I feel now, I knew I could help a team and be successful in the big leagues again."

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