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Saturday stories: Johan Santana, Tim Wakefield & Sean Ratliff

This has not been a good week. From a baseball fan’s perspective, we lost Gary Carter. From a more personal one, my family is awaiting the results of medical tests that my father is undergoing.

Johan Santana and catcher Rod Barajas walk in from the bullpen prior to his June 26th, 2010 start against the Minnesota Twins (Photo credit: Paul Hadsall)

So today, I want to focus on some positive stories.

Johan Santana threw 25 pitches in his first bullpen session of the spring after missing the entire 2011 season following shoulder surgery. Afterwards, he said that he “felt much better than I felt last year” The next test comes today, when Santana and the Mets find out how he feels a day after throwing. Then comes his next planned session on Tuesday. In a few weeks, if all goes well, Grapefruit League games. And maybe, on April 5th, an Opening Day assignment at Citi Field.

I loved watching Santana pitch in 2008 and 2009. I know that that pitcher will probably never come back… but I really would love to see Santana return as a pitcher still capable of winning games in the major leagues. I believe that’s still a realistic possibility, and it’s one of the stories I’m interested in following this spring.

Minor league outfielder Sean Ratliff is also trying to come back after a serious injury, but he’s getting far less attention. Late last spring, Ratliff was hit in the face by a check-swing foul ball. He suffered six broken bones and there was concern that he could lose his right eye.

On Thursday, Adam Rubin wrote about Ratliff’s recovery and the challenges that sill lay ahead for the 25-year-old prospect.

“I’m still not completely sure that I’m going to be game-ready,” Ratliff told Rubin. “It’s a matter of seeing live pitching and getting into game situations. But it’s closer than I thought it was going to be at this point, which is really good. Probably about a month ago, when I got this most recent contact [lens], I started to realize there was still a pretty good chance I was going to be able to play.”

I hope I get to see Ratliff play baseball in 2012. I would guess that he’ll be assigned to the Binghamton Mets at some point this season if his recovery goes well, so maybe I’ll run into him in Trenton.

Tim Wakefield
Tim Wakefield (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Finally, the big baseball story of the day Friday was that knuckleballer Tim Wakefield announced his retirement from baseball. Wakefield spent 17 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, and holds the team’s career marks in innings pitched, games started, and a number of others that he’s not likely to brag about (losses, home runs allowed, walks allowed, hits allowed, earned runs allowed, wild pitches and hit batsmen.)

Wakefield’s career is remarkable, not for its length, but that it happened at all. He was originally drafted as an infielder, but he hit just .189 in his first pro season. He started working on a knuckleball and began pitching the next season. By 1990, Wakefield was a full time pitcher and by 1992 he was in the major leagues. That first season, Wakefield went 8-1 (including two victories over the New York Mets) and finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

The magic faded in 1993, and he spent all of 1994 in the minor leagues. During spring training in 1995, the Pirates released Wakefield. Boston took a chance on him, and 17 years later he had two World Series rings, and the second highest win total in Red Sox history.

“When it came down to it, I had to take a hard look at what I thought was best for me, my family, and the Red Sox,”  Wakefield said Friday. “There is nothing that I want more than for this team to win, and it’s hard sometimes to take yourself out of the process. But in my heart, I feel that by retiring, I’m giving them a better chance to do that.”

It’s sad to see another player I watched as a kid leave the game behind, but I wish Wakefield well in whatever he decides to do next.

One thought on “Saturday stories: Johan Santana, Tim Wakefield & Sean Ratliff

  1. I am a Yankee fan; however, best wishes to Wakefield upon retirement. I don’t ever recall him involved in any off the field nonsense or BS.
    Never was linked to steroids either.

    I’m sure he’ll have no problem finding a job in baseball doing whatever he wants.

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