Jason Stevenson is slated to pitch tonight for the Fresno Grizzlies at Raley Field, six years after he walked away from baseball, now 30 and grateful for second chances.
Drafted in 2000 out of Sacramento City College by the then-Montreal Expos, the left-hander's career began on a promising arc. He reached Triple-A in 2004. After the 2005 season, he had a minor-league record of 32-37.
And then, the following April, the Class-A Potomac Nationals placed Stevenson on the voluntarily retired list. He did not resurface in baseball until last year, mowing down hitters for the Chico Outlaws of the independent North American League.
Stevenson said this week that he left the game for "personal reasons."
He declined to talk specifically about those off-the-field issues, or about what he was doing during his hiatus.
"The time away," Stevenson said, "was a personality builder. I had to grow up. I had to grow up and re-evaluate my priorities. Just become a better person, as a father, and as a baseball player, and as a husband."
Meanwhile, he missed baseball. He said he made a point during those years of staying active, playing basketball and softball. He watched games on TV, saw players he had played against in the minor leagues and wondered, "They're doing it, why can't I?"
In 2010, Stevenson said, he tried out for the Outlaws, managed by former Los Angeles Dodger Mike Marshall. But "similar issues got in the way," and he did not join Chico until last spring, a month into the season.
What struck Stevenson immediately, he said, was that his arm felt strong. His changeup still moved. He went 8-0 with a 1.68 ERA for the Outlaws, and players, including the Yuma Scorpions' Jose Canseco, started to tell him he didn't belong in independent ball.
"(Canseco) gave me a lot of encouragement, 'Your stuff can play in Triple-A, you're close, just keep working,' " Stevenson said. "When you hear somebody that's been there and seen it, you start to believe it."
Stevenson reached out to his former minor-league manager, Dave Machemer, now with the Giants' Double-A affiliate in Richmond, Va., and Machemer listened. The Giants signed Stevenson in August. He debuted with Triple-A Fresno on Aug. 22, surviving a four-run first inning to earn the win.
"I always felt like my time with baseball wasn't done," Stevenson said. "When I first came into pro baseball, I didn't give it my 100 percent. I took advantage of being good. I competed, but my work ethic wasn't always the best.
"So I want to do everything I can and learn as much as I can while I'm here now, while this opportunity's here, because it could be gone tomorrow. You just never know.
"Not a lot of people get two chances at anything we do in life. And to have two chances to do something I love I missed it so much. It's been an awesome experience."
Stevenson started this season in Richmond, and was promoted to Fresno on May 26. He won his first start, allowing two runs in five innings against Colorado Springs.
"There's lots of success stories of guys that disappear for a while and all of a sudden they're back," said Pat Rice, the Grizzlies' pitching coach. "Some of the stories are good ones and others are bad, they got themselves into trouble or had some personal family issues.
"Everybody has their own things. A lot of times, it takes a special person to try to ramp up and start over again, to try to re-establish what you once had."
Roster moves The River Cats announced that Yoenis Cespedes completed his Triple-A rehab assignment. Cespedes, who was not with the River Cats on Thursday, is expected to be activated by the A's today.
The A's, meanwhile, optioned right-hander Tyson Ross to Sacramento. Ross is 2-6 with a 5.94 for Oakland.
Manny Ramirez was a late scratch from the River Cats' lineup because of left leg tightness, the team said, a day after his 40th birthday.