KPIX 5 Sports Director Dennis O’Donnell hosts “Gameday” every Sunday night at 11:30pm on KPIX 5 and offers his unique sports analysis here.
OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Sugar Land, Texas was listed in 2006 by Money Magazine as the third best city to live in the United States. The name Sugar Land came to be because the town was built around a sugar refining plant just after the Civil War.
It is also home to the Sugar Land Skeeters, a minor league baseball team with no major league affiliation. And it was the last place that Scott Kazmir wanted to be. The former major leaguers fastball came back down to earth and his big league career came crashing down with it. Thirteen months after being released by the Angels, Sugar Land represented Kazmir’s last chance.
He took the mound at Bethpage Ballpark, home of the Ducks, in front of 6,407 fans and not a big league scout among them. What scout would take time to watch a washed up 28-year old whose previous two starts resulted in a 36.00 earned run average?
On that muggy July night in 2012, something changed. Kazmir’s fastball popped the glove at 89 miles per hour. It took him just 11 pitches to get through the first inning. It was the first scoreless inning that Kazmir had thrown for the Skeeters. And for the first time in more than a year, Kazmir said “I felt good out there.”
The Cleveland Indians were the only big league team to take notice, sending a scout to witness the rebirth of the former 2-time All-Star. Though Kazmir finished the season just 3-6 with a 5.34 ERA in 14 starts, it was good enough to get an invitation the Indians spring training camp.
Kazmir started 29 games for the Indians in 2013, going 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA. The comeback seemed complete, except that it wasn’t. The Indians, who paid him $1 million in 2013, were concerned about Kazmir’s long term health and never offered him more than a one-year deal.
Billy Beane’s pursuit of Tim Hudson became a futile effort when the former Athletic chose the Giants instead. It was then that Beane offered Kazmir an eye-popping, 2-year, $22 million contract. The deal stunned many in baseball who believed Beane had risked too much for a pitcher whose home address was Sugar Land just two years earlier.
On Thursday, Scott Kazmir took the hill at AT&T park, opposed by Tim Hudson. Somewhere, Beane was beaming. He’d lost out on Hudson, settling for Kazmir. Even Beane, with all his Moneyball accolades, could not have imagined the resurrection of the fomer Skeeter. Kazmir threw seven shutout innings en route to his 11th win of the year. His ERA is 2.38 and he has 108 strikeouts.
And the comeback would be complete. Except is it not. Not until Kazmir is introduced as an All-Star on Tuesday night in Minneapolis.
How sweet it is, all thanks to Sugar Land.