s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe

"Hey, Jason," I began the phone interview, "I wanted to know what's going on with your career."

Jason Lane, the former El Molino High and Santa Rosa JC star, responded honestly.

"When you find out," Lane said, "let me know."

Lane finds himself at the intersection of Uncertainty and Anything's Possible. Lane just finished his season with the Sugar Land Skeeters, an independent team near Houston. He was a designated hitter, hitting .270, but Lane is trying to return to the big leagues as a pitcher. He was 9-5 with a 3.17 earned run average, with 77 strikeouts and 18 walks in 110? innings. Those are solid, workmanlike numbers, especially the walks-to-innings ratio, in the Atlantic League, whose talent level Lane rates above Double-A.

But those workmanlike numbers for someone making the transition from hitting to pitching are not the eye-catching statistics Lane would prefer, considering he will turn 36 in December.

"I still feel I got a lot of baseball left in me," said Lane, who spent all or parts of six big-league seasons with the Houston Astros and hit a homer in the 2005 World Series.

Why keep pushing? After all, his last year in the big leagues was 2007. The easy answer: Left-handed relievers are always in demand. Is that it? Is that why he keeps trying?

"I love the game," Lane said. "I love the details."

Lane then gave an example. It was one of those "Wow!" examples.

"An outfielder misses a cutoff man on a single," Lane said, "and the runner doesn't stop at second. He continues to third. With the runner on third, the pitcher has to pitch more carefully. Maybe he pitches too carefully. He takes an extra 30 pitches to get out of the inning. He gets tired. He doesn't go deep into the game. He has to leave in the fifth inning. Relievers enter early. Two, three of them do. The manager has gone sooner to his bullpen than he would like. In fact, he burns the bullpen up to win the game.

"Now the next day's starter ... has to go deeper into the game. He feels the pressure. He doesn't pitch well. The team struggles. Days later they are still feeling the effects of a mental mistake days before. That's why I love baseball. It's the little things that can become the big things."

"You sound like a manager," I said.

Lane laughed and said, "Yeah, I have heard that a few times, that I'm gonna manage some day."

Lane has an unique perspective to offer. He hit 26 homers and drove in 78 runs in 2005. He was an All-American at USC, playing on the Trojans' NCAA championship team in 1999, as a pitcher and designated hitter. Lane now is attempting a comeback as a pitcher.

"Pitchers give hitters too much credit," Lane said, "and I think the same thing can be said of hitters. They give the pitchers too much credit."

Lane can tell players what it's like to be an NCAA All-American, to play in the College World Series and a World Series, to be thought of highly enough that five major-league organizations signed him (Astros, Padres, Yankees, Red Sox, Diamondbacks). He can tell players what it's like to be a good teammate, good listener and not to burn any bridges. Gary Gaetti is the Skeeter's manager; Gaetti also was his hitting coach in Houston in 2005. When Lane was released from the Diamondbacks' Triple-A team in Reno this spring, Lane called Gaetti for a job and got one.

Lane can also tell players what it's like to call Roger Clemens his friend. Lane played with Clemens, once when they were with the Astros in 2005 and 2006 and then again this summer when Clemens made two starts for Sugar Land. Clemens will enter Cooperstown one day with those seven Cy Young awards, those 354 victories and those eternal whispers of drug use.

"Roger is such a down-to-earth guy," Lane said. "For a superstar, it was impressive how easily he fit in here. He was one of the guys immediately. You see how hard he works, you see how tough a competitor he is. In terms of his work ethic, he's just on a different level than just about anyone else I have ever seen. I feel fortunate to have played with him."

Make no mistake, Lane feels fortunate as well for his career. Yes, sure, he admitted, he was shocked when he was released by Reno. He didn't think he was given an opportunity. But Lane has made a nice living and developed a solid reputation because of baseball. He was named the Atlantic League's Pitcher of the Month in July. On his list of achievements, that may not rank in his top 10. No matter.

Jason Lane believes it's best to look forward to something, rather than to look back. And for as long as he's been in professional baseball as a player (since 1999), Lane very well may spend even more time in the game as a coach and manager. And he is the first to say, there are worse ideas.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com