“I’m 100 per cent healthy and ready to go,” the 32-year-old left-handed reliever told NJ.com shortly after spring training opened in Port St. Lucie, FL. Health was the only possible hang-up after Rice led the team in mound appearances (73) in his rookie season before season-ending sports hernia surgery sidelined him from September 3 through the end of the season.
Should anyone forget Rice’s story prior to 2013, he had put in 14 seasons in the minor leagues, getting only as close as being a late cut more than once out of major league spring training. The California native was with three different Atlantic League teams (Long Island, NY and Newark, NJ in ’08-09), then after looks from two more major league organizations with York, PA for 15 bullpen outings (1-0, 1 save, 2.45) in 2011 before the Los Angeles Dodgers became his fifth major league organization.
ON THE BYRDAK, ROBERTSON TRAIL
It seems almost universally believed that left-handed relief pitchers can hang around forever if they are healthy. Tim Byrdak and Nate Robertson might be having their doubts about now.
Byrdak (Gary, IN and Joliet, IL, Northern League in 2003) has let it be known he feels 100 per cent after shoulder surgery limited him to eight major league appearances last season (Mets), but so far we have not seen anything concrete develop for the 40-year-old who has made 479 major league appearances in his career. Robertson, a former hurler and part owner of the Wichita (KS) Wingnuts of the American Association, went 4-4 with a 3.04 ERA for Texas’s top farm club at Round Rock last season. Fox Sports has reported the 36-year-old “has spoken with several clubs”, but, he, too, remains a free agent.
ANOTHER PLAYER TURNS TO COACHING
Todd Linden was a major league outfielder of some note, hitting .231 in 270 games (San Francisco, Florida), and when he lost out at that level at a relatively young age did what so many others have done. He turned to the Independent game, in his case in Canada (Edmonton of the North American League) in 2011 where he still had the talent to hit 14 homers, drive in 79 runs and hit .355. Linden returned to the Giants for two seasons in Triple-A, and he recently accepted an offer, at the age of 33, to become their hitting coach at Augusta, GA in the South Atlantic League.
His case is one more of proving there can be life after a playing career for those so inclined, especially if the player has proven enough that he can be the type of asset an organization treasures. Independent Baseball has been a stepping stone in this direction for so many.
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