We Have Not Seen The Last of Scottie K
When his Tampa Bay Rays career started, I truly thought his career might end with a speech on the steps of Cooperstown, New York on a balmy Summer afternoon. Somehow you could not have humanly imagined his M L B story ending so unexpectedly. But no one guarantees anything in life…or in baseball.
Scott Edward Kazmir to me personally will go down as perhaps the greatest pitcher to pull on a Rays uniform. He had a special way of mesmerizing M L B players into an air of overconfidence before he introduced them to his wicked slider. Combined with his high octane fastball, this lethal combination set Kazmir up early for both high praise and league-wide accolades.
Off the field, Kazmir was the quintessential ambassadors of the new and improved Rays personality, especially after his triumphant 2007 campaign. Consider this tidbit for a moment, of the Rays 66 victories during the 2007 season, Kazmir spotted the Rays 13 wins. That might not get you into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but it endeared him forever to the Rays Republic.
It was a bittersweet personal moment to hear that the Los Angeles Angels officially began to sever their ties with Kazmir who once one-upped fellow Twins southpaw Johanna Santana for the for the 2007 Strikeout title. At that exact moment in 2007, it seemed the Baseball World really was Kazmir’s oyster. 239 strikeouts, a Top 10 seat in the American League’s ERA race, and striking out 47 Red Sox during that 2007 Rays campaign endeared him to so many within Tampa Bay.
Who would have ever envisioned this always smiling southpaw was about to hit the plateau of his career at such a young age (23). Starting in the Spring of 2008 with a nagging elbow pain, Kazmir became the media darling when he boasted the Rays were going to the playoff in 2008.
Many thought Kaz might have over-medicated himself in the clubhouse, not fully believing in the “Miracle Summer of Rays baseball” would continue all the way to Kazmir taking the mound in the last Rays game of 2008 during the World Series.
From that last start during 2008, Kazmir did not seem like himself, his fastball seemed dulled a times. His slider now was average, and not the intimidating punch-out pitch. Somewhere on that cold and rainy night in Philadelphia Kazmir saw a ecentual piece of his pitching persona fade away. Kaz never has seemed to regained that extreme fire again.
Since that World Series start, Kazmir has seen so much of his once stellar world come down brick-by-brick. His 2009 Rays season had been a roller coaster of either brilliance or early hitting barrages and exits. The 2008 Kazmir seemed to be a hallow shell of his former spirited self. For some reason the moment Kazmir began to lose a bit of the feel for his slider, his world changed forever.
I was happy for Kazmir when he got a chance via a trade deadline deal to reunite with former Rays Pitching Coach Mike Butcher. Here was a authority figure who knew both Kazmirs’. Someone who might have a realistic shot of transforming the left-hander back to his former self. Some said at that moment the change of scenery, and into the hands of someone who mentored him early on in his career might be the perfect solution.
Somehow the Angels answers got muddled. The nagging questions of a lethargic and overcompensating Kazmir became larger as during some starts it just seemed Kazmir was pushing the ball towards the plate with his upper body instead of picking his spots.
What happened internally or physically to this once great leftie that intimidated so many American League hitters? Did a physical aliment that he hid for so long get the better of him and forced his body mechanics to fail or deceive him?
Did his hard throwing cause him to lose the feeling of his pitches in his fingers before the delivery to the plate? Or did his slider just become a hindrance instead of his saving grace?
I am a huge Kazmir mark. I have enjoyed watching Kazmir evolve and transcend during his Rays years. I still shutter at quick and hasty avalanche of his abilities spiraling downward over the last 2 seasons. Kazmir is a great person to be around, his vibrant competitive and fun-loving nature and enthusiasm for the game is down right infectious.
Those are the same traits he will need now to begin to rebuild himself if he wants to don another M L B jersey. Maybe this is a blessing. Possibly by having his career divorced from him will give him the motivation and determination to again rise above the ruins. Will afford him a “out of sight, out of mind” removal from the M L B spotlight and a realistic chance to de-construct his pitching mechanics and rebuild his career.
Sometimes things like this are a blessing in disguise. My advice to Scottie K is to take a few weeks to decompress, re-evaluate and just chill. Find that focal pitching center within him again then start to rebuild. Possibly call Pitching guru Rick Peterson, who once proclaimed he could “fix any pitcher “ and do the baby steps again. That might be hard for a pitcher who once ran a 6.7 60-yard dash.
I still remember watching your M L B debut August 23, 2004 in Seattle and cheering as you retired your first batter, Ichiro on a ground out to the shortstop. So much baseball promise and career moments seemed to be in front of you after that first win at Safeco Field.
Now it is your turn Scottie. Turn on both that Kazmir charm and determination and make the difficult journey back to the MLB. Some say you got $14.5 million reasons to walk away, but I truly think there is still a higher reward in store for you. You just got to take that first initial step back towards that clay raised mound again. Looking forward already to your next M L B start.