The news out of Spring Training today is that Clay Zavada missed his physical exam on Sunday night and did not report to camp this morning. He has conveyed to the Diamondbacks brass that he is having second thoughts about going through the process yet again. It is an understandable process, given his history with the sport. Here at the Snake Pit, we'd like to take a look back at Clay's career here and remind him of all the good moments he's had and why the best may be yet to come.
Clay had a rough start to his time in Major League Baseball. If you've forgotten, this New York Times story is a wonderful reminder. He took a hiatus in 2007 following the death of his father; he returned home to Streater, Illinois, ran his family's land, and graduated from college. After a lot of hard work and dedication, the Diamondbacks organization welcomed him back with open arms and he started back with South Bend in 2008. In May of 2009, the Diamondbacks pitching staff was greatly in need of assistance, so they brought up Zavada from AA Mobile, Alabama. Many talented and popular Diamondbacks have made the jump from AA to the 'bigs, most notably Mark Reynolds. Zavada should be counted among the greats.
When Zavada first came to the Diamondbacks, everybody first noticed his fabulous, Kirk Gibson-esque mustache. But his performance on the field was just as memorable. It took him 20 games - 6 weeks - before he allowed his first earned run, 18 2/3rds innings pitched and 20 strikeouts. His numbers slowly returned to earth after that early July game, but his ERA never even came close to 3.50 (something last year's staff would be insanely jealous of). He became one of Arizona's strongest 8th inning relievers. In 51 total innings in 2009, he struck out 52 batters. In his last and most emotional appearance of 2009, he pitched at Chicago's Wrigley Field with his family and friends in the stands. He pitched a clean 9th inning to close out the win.
Unfortunately, our own Mustached American of the Year could not repeat his feats in 2010. He was a favorite for a late-inning bullpen spot to begin Spring Training, but he struggled. He amassed an ERA of 8.00 and was sent down to AAA Reno, where he continued to have difficulties with his control. Some people thought it was all in his head - Zavada himself included - but (thankfully?) they discovered the torn ligament in his throwing arm, and Zavada underwent Tommy John surgery in May.
There has been very little news about his rehab progress. He did not participate in the fall leagues or winter ball - he spent the off-season at home. Recently, he said, "the elbow is in the back of my mind." That leads up to today's announcement that he's having doubts about his return to baseball.
Clay, we'd just like to say, that we love you and we'll support your decision either way. We heard from Barry Enright that you shaved your world-famous 'stache, but it will always have a place in our hearts, and in our photo albums from SnakePitFestAloozaThon 2009, when all of the visiting 'Pitters rocked the 'stache with you! We can only imagine how hard it is coming back from Tommy John surgery, and I'm sure Jarrod Parker can commiserate. But many, many players have had great careers after surgery. Please don't give up on the sport you love so much. You said yourself:
I came back to baseball for a reason and that was to have fun. ... All you need is a chip and a chair - that's what poker players say at least.
You are a very talented baseball player, you can bring a lot to this team - you do have a chip to play! It'll be very hard work to battle for a place on this pitching staff - our bullpen and rotation both look, for once, to be pretty well stocked. But absolutely nothing is written in stone in this organization, especially with Kevin Towers at the helm. You should believe in your abilities and give yourself a tryout at camp. You of all people know the value of hard work and the rewards it can bring. If your time is better spent at home with your family, we understand that. We will support your decision either way, but please - give the 2011 Diamondbacks a chance!