The competitor in Jeremy Bonderman wouldn’t let him celebrate his accomplishment.
After being out of baseball for almost three years, the simple fact that he took the mound at Peoria Stadium and started for the Seattle Mariners in Monday’s Cactus League game against the Los Angeles Angels is a feat that shouldn’t be overlooked.
But giving up a three-run homer has a way of souring a pitcher’s mood.
“It wasn’t the way I wanted it to go,” the former Pasco High star said. “But it was good to get out there and get my feet wet again.”
Bonderman’s one inning of work featured a little bit of everything. He gave up a leadoff single to outfielder Mike Trout, last year’s runner-up for AL MVP. Then, a nice slider got Erick Aybar to ground out weakly to third. But faulty command with the same pitch put him behind Peter Bourjos, who ended up walking.
With runners on first and second and one out, Bonderman threw a tough pitch – a fastball on the hands to Chris Iannetta, getting him to pop up to second.
It looked as though Bonderman might get out of the inning without allowing a run. But that changed with one bad pitch. He hung a 1-1 slider to catcher Hank Conger, who blasted it into right field for a three- run homer.
“I hung a breaking ball plain and simple,” Bonderman said. “It only takes one pitch to ruin everything.”
Bonderman retired Kole Calhoun on a fly ball to left field to end his day.
“It’s good to get the first one out of the way, but there are no excuses,” Bonderman said. “You have to go out and get outs.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge was a little more upbeat than Bonderman.
“I thought he looked good,” Wedge said. “I was impressed with what we saw. Again, we don’t really get too caught up in the scorecard.”
What matters more to Wedge and his staff is how Bonderman looks in his delivery, whether it’s natural and not forced.
“We talk about the way the ball was coming out of his hand,” Wedge said. “He wasn’t really catching up with his breaking ball. That’s something you expect to come a little later, usually the secondary stuff, particularly the breaking stuff.”
They also want to see how he feels after the start. Bonderman expects to be fine.
“My arm feels good,” he said. “I’m 100 percent healthy. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here. I’ve done that before and it isn’t fun.”
And he’s been to enough spring trainings to know that one outing isn’t going to determine his future.
“It was definitely not the results I was looking for, but I’m going to keep working,” he said. “I’m looking forward to my next opportunity.”
For a long time, Bonderman thought there would never be another opportunity.
Arm issues destroyed his promising career with the Detroit Tigers. They started early in the 2008 season when doctors discovered a blood clot in Bonderman’s shoulder 12 starts into the season. It required surgery and forced him to miss the rest of the season.
He came back in 2009 and made one start but was shut down with more pain in the shoulder. After the 2010 season, Bonderman became a free agent. He suffered an elbow injury during offseason workouts and opted to retire at age 28.
“I thought I was done in 2010,” he said. “I hadn’t planned on playing again.”
But he decided to give baseball another chance, and underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in April.
“I know what I can do if I was healthy,” he said. “Once I finally got healthy, I wanted to give it one more shot.”
The Mariners signed him to a minor league contract to give him a shot – albeit a long one – to make the team.
“When I decided to come back, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, I’m just going to give this a shot and we’ll see,’” he said. “I worked hard and put my time in every day. I’m down here for the long haul. If at the end of the camp they tell me they don’t want me, then I will go home.”
He didn’t yearn for family support Monday. His wife, Amber, and 3-year-old son, Tripp, flew down Sunday and were in the stands to watch his return to the mound.
“It’s the first time he’s seen me pitch,” Bonderman said. “He was an infant the last time.”
Will Tripp see his father pitch in the big leagues this year? It’s possible. If there were odds, Bonderman would be a long shot. Maybe it will be with the Mariners. Maybe it will be with another team. But he’s proven something to himself in the process.
“At least I will go out on my own terms,” he said. “I didn’t just walk away because I was hurt. I went back out there.”