Dusty Baker has taken a lot of flack of "ruining" Mark Prior's career, but he'll now have some say in Prior's latest comeback attempt. (Image Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Mark Prior Soldiers On

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Mark Prior pitched an inning for the Cincinnati Reds in spring training Thursday. As far as I know he didn’t clutch his right arm, right shoulder, groin, knee, or any other part of his body in pain when the inning was over. It was a routine inning, no runs allowed, not hits permitted, but then no inning that Mark Prior pitches at this stage of his life, seven years after his last appearance for the Chicago Cubs, could be termed routine.

The one-time University of Southern California phenomenon, high pick in the draft, and All-Star in Chicago, has a list of injuries longer than his years of pitching, but one thing you’ve got to give him credit for is perseverance. He won’t give up. He won’t quit. He fights on.

I believe I wrote similar words a year ago, or at least of the same sentiment, when Prior signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox. By August the Red Sox had cut him.

On March 1, 2013, Prior signed a minor league contract with the Reds. If nothing else, manager Dusty Baker, who was the Cubs manager when Prior played for them, must have spoken up for him and said something like “Give the kid a chance.” Only Prior is no longer a kid. He is in his early 30s.

Prior was drafted by the Cubs as a likely future ace. He played for the National League squad in the Windy City from 2002 to 2006. His lifetime Major League record is 42-29 and he has a 3.51 earned run average. Prior made millions of dollars and could have taken his depression to a mountain retreat or an ocean hideaway to veg out long ago if he wanted to–he could afford it. Instead, every time the calendar flips a page, there is Prior, trying to pitch for someone. If it’s not the San Diego Padres, it’s a team in the Frontier League affiliated with no big-league club.

Some will say Baker owes Prior. Baker has been blamed for overusing young pitchers, causing them injuries, but I never bought into that. Pitchers get hurt all of the time in all sorts of ways and unfortunately for Prior even after he seems cured he tears something else, rips something anew and goes back on the unable-to-perform list, gets released by his latest employer, rehabs, and works himself back into condition and gives it another go.

Will Prior be on the Reds’ final roster when the team’s opening day comes April 1? Wouldn’t bet on it. Will Prior still belong to the Reds and be shuffled to a minor-league outpost? That seems more likely. It’s hard not to root for Prior to make a comeback that ultimately finds him on a big-league club once again. It doesn’t sound as if he is going to surrender to his body’s aches before that happens. On the day that Prior walks onto the mound to throw an inning for the Reds, or any other Major League team, in a game that counts for real, it will be a prized moment for him. Let’s hope he doesn’t get too misty-eyed to throw the ball over the plate.

It will also be a special moment for baseball. Probably less than half of the fans in the ballpark will comprehend what Prior accomplished just by getting there. That will be Prior’s fantasy come to life. But Prior’s determined battle to over injury and buy himself another chance with sweat equity will be worthy of a standing ovation from all of us who at one time strived and fell short or strived and through our own will made it back to the top from the bottom.

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