Most of the players on the Kansas Stars are at least a year removed from their major-league careers. For most it’s been longer than that.
They have accepted that their MLB playing days are over, as tough as it’s been to come to grips with that harsh reality.
Right-handed pitcher Jeremy Guthrie isn’t quite there yet.
As recently as last season, Guthrie was in the rotation for the Kansas City Royals, who won a world championship in 2015. In the previous two seasons, Guthrie won a total of 28 games with an ERA of just over 4.00.
“I would like to continue pitching,” Guthrie said after limiting the Seattle Studs to two runs over six innings Thursday night in the NBC World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. “I just don’t think there are any opportunities any more. I tried really hard this year and it didn’t work out.”
Guthrie has pitched this season in El Paso and New Orleans, the Triple-A franchises for the San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins. He was recently released after putting together a 6-8 record and 7.68 ERA for those teams.
When you’ve been in the big leagues for 12 years after fighting so hard to get there as a 15th-round draft pick, the end can be horrible to deal with and difficult to discern.
Guthrie certainly looked like a pitcher who had something left against the Studs. Admittedly, that’s a team of college and former college players and nothing like facing big leaguers or even Triple-A guys.
“I know Jeremy can still pitch,” Kansas Stars teammate Brandon Inge said.
There’s nothing Guthrie would like more. But getting released as a 37-year-old with a 7.68 ERA in Triple-A doesn’t lend a lot of confidence. Guthrie has always been one of those pitchers who lacks great “stuff” and has had to depend on location and command. When he’s just a little bit off, hitters have made him pay.
“I’m in the process of coming to grips,” Guthrie said of his baseball future.
You could tell from his answer that his mind hasn’t yet accepted the end.
Inge isn’t surprised.
“It takes a while and in your mind you always think you’re a ballplayer,” said the former Detroit Tigers third baseman who crushed a long home run over the left-center field fence in Thursday’s win. “I’ll be in a wheelchair someday and probably think I can still play.”
Stars reliever Heath Bell, who had a three-year run of 40-plus saves for the San Diego Padres from 2009-11, said he still has flashes where he thinks he could get big-league hitters out.
“I was at the All-Star game in San Diego doing some stuff for Fox News and thinking, ‘Man, I could still go out there and pitch,’ ” Bell said. “It’s been tough for me but I’ve been coaching my son on a travel team and that’s helped get me through not being able to play.”
To a man, the Stars are embracing their NBC World Series experience and not because it got them an expenses-paid trip to Wichita.
It’s the competition they crave and the opportunity to see what they still have. For some, the answer isn’t what they wanted it to be. For the most part, though, the Stars have done themselves proud.
Take shortstop Jack Wilson, who has been making one good play after another. Wilson is still spry at 38 and looks like the kind of player who could help the Stars for years to come.
If, of course, the Stars ultimately decide playing in the NBC World Series is something they want to do regularly.
I hope they do. They played to three sellouts during pool play this week as Wichitans have been curious to see how well these guys can still play.
Thursday’s crowd was down, though. I think it was the combination of the new pool-play format that led to some confusion about the tournament schedule and the need for fans to take some time away from the ballpark.
Here’s hoping the crowd for Friday night’s semifinals – the Stars against Hays at 7 and the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters against the San Diego Force at 9:30 – is bigger.
Listening to the debate about the Stars – are they good for the World Series or not – has been interesting.
For me, it’s simple. Of course they’re good. Sellout crowds were thought to be a thing of NBC World Series’ past before this season.
The Stars have brought people to the ballpark who likely haven’t been there in years.
This is a great idea that was implemented into a reality. And the reality is that the Kansas Stars are great for this tournament and great for this city.