Former Redwood Empire star Jason Lane's long road back to the big leagues
SAN DIEGO - He started playing baseball as a Lion, El Molino High, that is.
And his latest professional uniform was that of a Chihuahua, El Paso, that is.
In between …
He was a junior college Player of the Year at Santa Rosa Junior College in 1997;
He was the winning pitcher for USC in the 1998 College World Series championship game;
He’s played 15 professional seasons;
He’s cashed paychecks from 11 different organizations;
He hit a home run in the 2005 World Series;
He reinvented himself as a pitcher, making two relief appearances in the majors for the Padres, retiring all 10 Pirates hitters he faced on June 3 this year, and pitching a scoreless inning against the Nationals three days later; and he became only the third pitcher in the past 100 years to make his major league debut as a starting pitcher at age 37 or older (37 years, 219 days) and pitch six-plus innings and allow one earned run or fewer.
Now Jason Lane waits. Waits for a possible weekend meeting with San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller and a trip to Venezuela and winter league baseball, where he will work on his relatively new-found craft of pitching.
“After the Triple-A season ended (in early September), I didn’t get called up to the Padres and that was a little disappointing, but I understood,” Lane said earlier this week from his current residence in Santa Rosa. “So, now I’m a minor league free agent.”
The Padres, for whom he started that game on July 28 for an ailing Ian Kennedy and was a tough-luck 1-0 loser to the Braves in Atlanta, will either offer him something now or they won’t. Either way, he’ll head to winter ball and do what he’s done since those days at El Molino, work on his craft. Only this time it won’t be as the hitter he once was (he does own 61 major league homers), but as a pitcher.
He was shipped back to the minors and El Paso on July 29.
“It was hard to send Jason back to the minor leagues, but we had to make a roster move at the time,” said Padres manager Buddy Black. “His age? That has nothing to do it. It’s just a number.”
In that July 28 loss in Atlanta, Lane’s one and only major league start, he went six-plus innings, allowed one run on a homer, five singles and no walks. He had only two strikeouts and he threw 68 of 92 pitches for strikes. “I can get my fastball up to about 91 (mph),” he said.
One factor he shares with Black - a disregard for age.
“I do think that my age has a lot to do with my getting back to the majors now,” Lane said. “It’s the perception of age that works against me. But the odd thing is that I’ve only been pitching for a few years. My arm is really like a 27-year-old.”
It is hard to gauge the Padres’ next move, mainly because Preller, a young baseball executive who only accepted the job, his first as a general manager, within the month, will surely mold his own roster with Black’s help, and he also has acknowledged his desire to sign more foreign players.
“I met him (Preller) once in El Paso,” Lane said. “We had a great baseball talk about all the experiences I’ve had. But we didn’t talk much about my plans going forward. I’m just very thankful for the Padres’ organization giving me a shot for the short time I was up there.”
He finished the season at El Paso with a 9-9 record and a 4.51 ERA in 24 starts. “I also never missed a start at El Paso,” he said.
“I understood it was a numbers game. I had done well. There was nothing else I could do. It was a tough year, but I’ll fight to get back there (to the majors). I’d accept any role they would give me. It was just easier to accept that way.”
And that home run he hit for the Houston Astros in the World Series?
“Seems like an awful long time ago,” Lane said.
One other statistic Lane can always list on his resume - he singled in three at-bats this season for the Padres and his .333 batting average will lead all Padres hitters in 2014.