Gordon's 'Plan A' is to pitch his way onto A's roster
03/16/2013 12:00 AM
03/17/2013 10:20 AM
Amid pressing matters of trying to make an impression in spring training and win a job with the A's, infielder Eric Sogard was asked last week if he'd gotten to know the guy in the next locker at the team's spring training facility in Phoenix, reliever Brian Gordon.
"A little bit, but not too much," Sogard admitted. "I don't know his story."
For how it landed Gordon with the A's this spring, it may be the most intricate in camp.
It includes 15 seasons of pro baseball and a mere 37 days of major-league service time, a conversion from the outfield to the mound and a Hall of Fame tutor. It includes a start in Yankee Stadium and a year and a half in Korea before winding its way to Phoenix, where Gordon is a non-roster invitee to the A's camp with a remote chance at a roster spot.
"I feel like this is Plan A for me – big-league baseball," Gordon said. "I don't know, I feel like I still have something to offer."
For a long time, Gordon, 34, tried to prove that with a bat after the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him as an outfielder in 1997. Pitching had been his focus growing up in Texas, where he idolized Nolan Ryan. But it was an opportunity to play professionally, straight out of Round Rock High School, and he took it.
Gordon spent 10 years trying to make it as an outfielder, never rising above Triple-A. He batted .274 with 119 homers in 1,086 games in the minors. In 2006, as a fourth outfielder for the Houston Astros' Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock and with no major-league time, he approached manager Jackie Moore about a switch to pitching.
"I was expecting him to chuckle, kind of laugh," Gordon said. "But he looked at me straight in the face and said, 'You know what? I'll try to get you on a mound and see what you've got.' "
The conversion began that winter. In terms of pitches, Gordon said he had what he used in high school – fastball and curveball. He began developing off-speed stuff and honing his command. Some of his bullpen sessions occurred under the watchful eye of Ryan, the all-time strikeout leader who owned the team in Round Rock.
"(Growing up) I had a couple of his videos, and after school I'd come in and watch his video, watch him throw," Gordon said. " 'Nolan Ryan: Feel the Heat' was one of them, and it was so cool. As a kid, that's what I wanted to be, was that pitcher."
Gordon spent most of the next two seasons pitching in the minors. On Sept. 17, 2008, he made his big-league debut with the Texas Rangers, throwing a scoreless inning against Detroit. Soon it was back to Triple-A – until June 2011, when the Yankees came calling.
New York needed a spot starter – ironically because of an injury to Bartolo Colon, whose locker is now across the room from Gordon's at the A's camp. At the time, Gordon was 5-0 with a 1.14 ERA at Lehigh Valley and had an out in his contract. Gordon's wife, Amanda, recalled being in the car outside their hotel, in the rain, when the phone rang.
"I think we kind of blacked out there," she said in a phone call.
Gordon, in pinstripes, started on June 16 against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium and threw 5 1/3 innings in a 3-2 Yankees win. He made one more start before Colon returned. Back in Triple-A, he had a choice to make when the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball League approached him with an offer.
"I have a wife, a couple kids, a mortgage," Gordon said. "They offered a guaranteed contract. And at 15 years in, 'X' amount of balls thrown, you just don't know when your last pitch is going to be. It was something I couldn't walk away from."
Gordon finished the season with the Wyverns. Amanda, their daughter Finley and son Riggs followed him to Incheon, a city an hour outside Seoul, that fall. They found the pace of life faster than Texas, Amanda said, but "the people were very nice, very helpful."
"She's pretty amazing as far as what she's endured along the way," Gordon said. "She's a single mom half the year, so what she does is pretty spectacular."
Gordon returned to the KBL last season, going 11-3 with a 3.94 ERA for the Samsung Lions. In the offseason, Gordon and his agent reached out to major-league teams about his availability. The A's signed him to a minor-league deal on Dec. 22.
Chances to pitch have been scarce this spring, where Gordon has allowed four hits and two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. A's manager Bob Melvin acknowledged last week that, with much of the A's bullpen returning from last season's division-winning club, "it will probably be very difficult for him to make the big-league team right now."
"But the way he's pitching, he's certainly on our radar," Melvin said. "And we had 50 guys here last year on the big-league team. So just because you don't start here doesn't mean you won't be here at some point in time."
Gordon said he has learned not to worry about "the stuff you can't control."
"You dream, you hope," he said. "I feel like I've got something to offer at the big-league level. Am I going to be there? I don't know. But I'm not going to sit there and beat myself up. I'll let the A's think about that."
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