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Mark Prior watch: Cautiously optimistic (aren't we all?)

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mark_prior_padres.jpgSeldom are 1,100 words dedicated to a player profile in a major daily newspaper. Especially when that player hasn't actually played in a game in two years.

And yet, the San Diego Union-Tribune did exactly that with a story that's becoming a yearly tradition -- the will-he, won't-he Mark Prior pitch again story.

Because very few of us have time to devour 1,100 words on the Web without risking seizure and migraine, I'll sum up reporter Bill Center's piece:
It's been a long, tough road to repair his Silly Putty shoulder, and if Mark Prior pitches again, it will be to the great surprise everyone -- even himself.

So -- is Prior healthy? Sort of. "My shoulder feels 95 percent normal again, and it works properly." There's a huge difference, though, between being able to reach a can of soup on the top shelf and hurling a baseball 95 mph consistently with everyone staring intently on you waiting to see if your arm is going to fly off.  

Will he pitch this year? Maybe. He told Center he's "cautiously optimistic." But in this economy, aren't we all cautiously optimistic about our lives? 

How has he been spending his time while he made millions the last couple years not playing professional baseball? Not a whole lot. "I spent quality time with my daughters and developed an appreciation for where I was and what I wanted." Where does one sign up for that job? About a block from Wrigley Field a couple doors down from my sick, sprawling, baller apartment, there's a line of more than 50 people that forms every morning consisting of work-starved day laborers. I bet they'd be interested in some Prior-esque work, too.

Do Prior's bosses share his optimism?  Padres General Manager Kevin Towers says, "If he's healthy, and all the reports thus far are encouraging, Prior is my ace in the hole." I don't play cards, so I'm not precisely sure what he means ... but judging by the context I'm pretty sure that he, too, is cautiously optimistic. 

Is Prior comparing himself to Kurt Warner? Yes. "If Kurt Warner can disappear for five years, I can disappear for three," he said. Well, if Kurt Warner can disappear for five years and Mark Prior can disappear for three years, does this mean that I can disappear for two years so I can write that tell-all memoir I have festering inside me? No? OK. 

Truth is, I'm pulling for Mark Prior. Don't get me wrong -- I'm glad he left Chicago. Listening to the annual anti-Prior rhetoric from Chicago media folk and hissing Cub fans was getting exhausting. Patience is not this city's strong suit when it comes to sports. Kudo's to Prior for not cashing in and opting to take a minor-league contract with the Padres -- a team that gambled on him and has lost thus far. 

Wouldn't it make for one of the great comeback stories in sports if he can crawl his way back to the majors?

Take money out of the equation. Take personal feelings about the guy's personality (or lack thereof) out of it. There have been few pitchers as maligned and ridiculed as much as Mark Prior over the past few years. His name has become synonymous with unfulfilled potential.

There have been rumors throughout his career that Prior's injuries were either a result of Dusty Baker's overuse of the young phenom, steroid use or a combination of both. After all, he did rise to stardom during the infamous Steroid Era in the early part of this decade. Like others who have made headlines recently on the topic, Prior was young and naive then. Although he's denied using performance-enhancing drugs, referencing his slight frame (6-5, 185 lbs. back then) as evidence, it's possible. You really can't rule out anyone who came up in those loosey goosey times -- except maybe Roy Oswalt.

But that was then. Mark Prior could sneak up on us and become one of the most intriguing story lines of this season. Or, keeping with tradition, he'll freakishly injure his shoulder again and leave us to wonder when he'll finally call it quits.

Center's article may be the first Prior-related piece of this spring training season, but it certainly won't be the last. One thing is for sure though -- subsequent articles in the next few weeks will provide a definitive answer to this year's will-he, won't-he question.

Prior to injuries, he was it [San Diego Union-Tribune]

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Does he now have a claw for a hand? What is with that gesture?

Kevin Replies: Yes. He is bionic. I left that part out.

Good luck Mark........

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This page contains a single entry by Kevin Allen published on February 12, 2009 1:46 PM.

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