Most baseball players don’t get to choose when or how their careers will end. Players who have retired in the past few years, like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Chipper Jones, all got to choose when they said goodbye to the game. But for other players, the game said goodbye to them, and before they were ready. That’s a reality that pitcher Jeremy Guthrie lives with every day.
The last time we saw Guthrie, it was a month ago and he was pitching for the Washington Nationals. He made his 2017 debut on April 8, his birthday, when the Nats were taking on the Philadelphia Phillies. And things did not go well. He lasted just 2/3 of an inning, and gave up 10 runs on six hits and four walks. When he walked off the mound and back to the clubhouse after the worst start of his career, he had no idea it would be the last time.
Guthrie had an insightful and candid conversation with MASN Sports’ Mark Zuckerman about his life since that fateful start, which had felt like any other — at least to begin with. In fact, leading up to that career-ending start, there had been no indication that things would go that badly. Guthrie spent the winter pitching in Australia, trying to sharpen his skills and revive his career after not appearing in the majors in 2016. He got an invite to Nats spring training after a chance meeting with a scout, and he made the most of it. His command and increased velocity impressed everyone, leading to his call-up for that start in Philadelphia. He summed it up succinctly for Zuckerman:
“For six weeks – I told my wife this – I felt unhittable,” [Guthrie] said. “I’d go out there in those spring games, and I just felt like I could throw the ball where I wanted to, get it to move and get people out. And then in 47 pitches in Philadelphia, I felt like I couldn’t get anybody out. And after that, I was realistic with myself enough to know that was the type of outing that could completely change what had transpired the prior six weeks.”
It’s crazy to think that one start could cancel out a strong showing in spring training, but that’s baseball, and Guthrie knows it well. The Nats had promised him that once he was sent back to Triple-A Syracuse, he’d be called back up. But that night, they let Guthrie know that was no longer true. So he went home to Portland, Oregon, and gave the whole situation some thought. In the end, he decided he wouldn’t report to Syracuse, and the Nationals granted Guthrie his release. And while it’s not a decision he made lightly, he told Zuckerman that it felt like the right thing to do.
“My wife leans on this, and I think I’ve learned to lean on it as well: Maybe the only way I could end up at home anytime soon with my family, where they need me, was for something like this to happen,” Guthrie said. “That was maybe the hardest question I had to ask myself: ‘Why would I pitch well enough to make the team, just to have this happen?’ In my mind, I felt like there was a greater plan, pushing me and providing the opportunities that came to me. And then to have it suddenly go away and be taken away in that fashion, my wife said: ‘You know what, maybe if you just did OK in spring training and didn’t make the team, you would’ve wanted to keep pitching. Maybe if you pitched well in that game, you certainly would’ve kept pitching. But maybe you’re supposed to be home, and that’s probably what’s happening.’”
It’s clear from the interview that he’s still having a hard time moving past his final outing, but hopefully it won’t haunt him long term. It’s certainly something he won’t forget, but it helped him make an important decision about his life. He hasn’t been able to use the word “retired” yet, but his playing career is over. The only pitching he’s doing is to help his local high school team.
It’s unexpected for a baseball player to speak this candidly about his experiences, but it’s fascinating to get such insight on the thoughts and feelings of a player like Guthrie. Sometimes you wonder what a player is going through after a bad start, or when they’re going to be sent down, or even released. Guthrie was honest and unafraid of talking about it, and it’s so refreshing to get more than the regular platitudes that we always hear.
Guthrie doesn’t know where his post-baseball path leads quite yet, but everything happens for a reason. In that vein, he had some sage words to end the interview.
“I’ll regret the outcome. I won’t regret the process,” he said. “There was nothing more that I could’ve done to prepare. But I’ll regret the outcome as long as I watch baseball. I’ll always think to myself: ‘Geez, if I just could’ve pitched better, who knows what could’ve happened?’ I don’t think I’ll ever get past it, but I think I will accept it for what it is and be grateful for the opportunity I was afforded.”
Well said, and best of luck to Jeremy Guthrie as he discovers what his future holds.
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