SCOTTSDALE — The dreams that unfold under Arizona suns during spring training are usually ones of beginnings. Of debuts, of years of work paying off, of a childhood vision becoming an adult reality.
For Scott Kazmir, who has nearly 1,700 major league innings under his left arm, it’s not a dream that is starting but one he doesn’t want to wake up from.
He has not pitched in the major leagues since 2016. A career that began in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays — four years before Evan Longoria even got his call-up — has been not dashed but on hold for five years. Injuries kept him from throwing a pitch in the majors in 2017, when he said he still felt he had more left. He was dealt from the Dodgers to the Braves before the 2018 season, and was released during camp.
He stepped away but not too far.
“There were a lot of health issues going on with my family and everything. I knew I had to be at home,” said the 37-year-old Kazmir in his first media appearance as a Giants minor league signing.
There was a family to care for, and the now father of two had started a family of his own. Time went by, and he wasn’t retired but also wasn’t pitching. The lefty had a catch with a friend during the 2019 All-Star break, and he felt it again.
“It just felt great,” said the former Devil Ray, Indian, Angel, A, Astro and Dodger. “I kind of used it at the beginning just as more of a way to stay in shape — stay in shape by working out and throwing pitches and throwing bullpens. It was fun; I liked doing it.
“Ever since then I just stuck with it.”
And then the pandemic hit. He wanted to be there for his family, but he felt his body pulling him back toward a mound that had been a home of its own. The Texas native stayed local last year and joined the startup Constellation Energy League, which was thrown together in the wake of the independent Atlantic League canceling its season.
“Once I got out there and was able to get that adrenaline again and being able to face hitters,” Kazmir said before a slight pause. “It was something that I missed so much. And I knew that this was the path for me.”
His manager in the league was Dave Eiland, a former major league pitching coach whom the Giants kept in touch with. The Giants have followed Kazmir consistently. Farhan Zaidi and the southpaw were together with both the A’s and the Dodgers, and the Giants will look everywhere for pitching help. He reportedly was at 92-93 mph in a recent bullpen session that the Giants attended.
Kazmir has followed the Giants through the years, too. He said so many players who have come through have “talked very highly about just how professional and how everything is run.” He knows nearly every coach on the staff from run-ins to previous coaches to previous teammates to previous opponents; Kapler and Kazmir were Tampa teammates.
Kazmir felt the itch, but it couldn’t be scratched just anywhere.
“I didn’t necessarily solicit myself out to a lot of teams because there was a certain situation that I wanted to be in,” said the three-time All-Star. “I felt like I wanted to be in a situation where no matter the outcome, no matter what happens, I would have a support staff there, and I would just be comfortable and at the same time, have a chance to win. They checked all the boxes.”
If there is an unchecked box, it’s openings on the Giants, who have a likely starting five. Kazmir will be developed as a starter, Kapler said, and there will inevitably be opportunity during a season of intense pitching concern and with a club that has intense concern about the health of its current five.
It sounds as if Kazmir, who admitted some hesitation about a comeback during the pandemic, would be willing to work his way back from Triple-A Sacramento.
“Of course I’m going all for it right now out of camp, but at the same time I know that I need reps, I know that I need to get my feet wet and really be able to … kind of breathe in that moment,” Kazmir said over Zoom from Scottsdale Stadium. “… No matter what happens, no matter where I’m at, I’m going to keep working every single day to get better.”
He softly smiled with his eyes wide, though the dream is clearly still going.