Bryan Shaw is only 25 with two big league seasons on his resume; Scott Kazmir is more renewed than new, and to him that’s as good as it can get. Then there’s Jason Giambi, 42, who has a role that includes counseling new guys.
Kazmir already is one of baseball’s warm and fuzzy stories of 2013. Following his last productive season — when he was 12-8 with a 3.49 ERA for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 — Kazmir fumbled and stumbled his way out of the majors, finally landing on an independent league team in Sugarland, Texas, last year.
That’s where his renewal began in earnest, even though the only baseball further from the big leagues than Sugarland is played on lumpy fields by slowpitch softball teams in places like Lorain and Barberton.
“I felt like I was taking the right step, but at the same time I was in a clubhouse at a stadium in the Atlantic League, watching a big league game on TV,” Kazmir said about his feelings of isolation. “The majors seemed like a long ways away.”
But according to him, the Atlantic League saved his career.
“One of the things that got me in trouble was thinking I had to re-create myself as a pitcher,” Kazmir said. “What I needed to do was get back to being myself and do the things that came naturally to me.”
Sugarland, Texas, was where he found his comfort level.
“It was great,” Kazmir said. “My experience was awesome. Those guys were very passionate about the game and just all-around good people, especially the guys on my team. It was fun.”
Through all the disappointment that preceded his comeback in spring training, Kazmir never thought about quitting.
“No, it was more about the stress of wondering when it was going to happen for me,” he said. “When am I going to figure out some things? But I never gave up.”
Giambi has done it all in baseball: league Most Valuable Player, multiple All-Star Games, one World Series, and just to prove it hasn’t always come up roses, Comeback Player of the Year.
At an age when most players of his accomplishment have moved to the broadcast booth or have standing tee times at the local country club, Giambi came to camp on a minor league contract, hoping he would latch onto a roster spot.
“I’m fired up,” he said. “I like the makeup of this team, the depth, the potential we have, the back end of the bullpen. I’m excited. We have an American League lineup one through nine. We can manufacture runs, we have speed and we have some power. It’s impressive.”
Giambi still wants to hit, but because he is coming off the bench, opportunities will be sporadic.
“Like they explained, it will depend on everybody else and what the situation is,” he said. “But I’m not worried about that. Age has helped, and being a pinch hitter in the National League helped.
“Maybe I’d get one at-bat a week or a few pinch hitting at-bats. I learned how to figure it out (coming off the bench), so I’m in a good place.”
One of his primary duties, if not his No. 1 responsibility, will be to counsel players and strike the appropriate mood in the clubhouse.
“I knew I was going to do this coming in,” Giambi said. “I really came to love that role when I was in Denver. But I still can have productive at-bats.”
Shaw came to the Indians as part of the deal that brought in Matt Albers and Trevor Bauer from the Arizona Diamondbacks and didn’t know if he would make the team or not.
“Last year with Arizona, trying to make the team, I tried to be perfect, and I struggled,” he said. “This year I came in and prepared myself for the season, no matter where they sent me, wherever the cards might fall. It doesn’t help if you’re all stressed and worried.”
Bottom line was finding a place to live in either Columbus or Cleveland.
“My wife was more stressed than I was,” Shaw said. “She’s the one that called both places and got apartments and called the airlines to check on flights to Columbus and Cleveland.”
Kristen Shaw has learned to be a baseball wife, without even being a baseball fan.
“She finds baseball boring,” Shaw said. “We met in college, at Long Beach State. We don’t talk much about baseball, which I like. I can go home and do other stuff.”
Kristen probably won’t attend every game in Cleveland, but she will look for work in the fashion industry. Maybe she will volunteer at an animal shelter, which is what she does at home in suburban Phoenix.
Making sure her husband doesn’t leave the house with holes in his socks also is on Kristen’s list of priorities.