On the back of the first Mike Redmond baseball card – Kane County Cougars, 1993 – it read, “Will be a great coach when playing days are over.”
As left-handed compliments go, it was a grand slam.
“This was my first year of pro ball,” Redmond said, laughing. “I thought, ‘They’re not giving me a very long career here.’ ”
Eighteen seasons later, the card is a collector’s item. The see-ya-later on the back, not so much – though the sentiment behind it was undoubtedly accurate.
Redmond put in an appearance Saturday night at the American Legion World Series, just another oddity in his summer of 2010 because he’s actually free to do such a thing – along with daily rounds of golf, outings to the lake and even training for a marathon. Just about a month ago, the Spokane native and graduate of both Gonzagas in town was given his release by the Cleveland Indians.
Technically, Redmond’s playing career isn’t over – but the fat lady is definitely doing her lip trills and scales.
“I don’t think we’re actively pursuing anything,” Redmond said. “If something came up, I would really have to think about it. I haven’t been in Spokane for a summer in 20 years and it’s been phenomenal to be around the kids and seeing friends and doing all the stuff I’ve wanted to do.
“I even went to a Spokane Indians game. That was weird.”
“Don’t get me wrong – I’ve spent a lot of time on the bench, so I’ve watched a lot of baseball,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what I’d focus on, but all I sat there watching was the third base coach giving signs, trying to pick them up – and seeing if the pitcher was tipping his pitches, if I could tell what he was throwing in certain counts. It didn’t take more than about two innings before I had them all.”
Baseball never seems to short itself on glory and ceremony, but the average careerist goes out with much less fanfare than in what we know as the real world – though, certainly, what amounts to severance pay is infinitely better.
For his 13 seasons of service in the majors, Redmond got the usual summons to the office, a week in limbo while “designated for assignment” and finally the line in the paper acknowledging his release. He had played just 22 games with Cleveland, so the Indians owed him no farewell “day” – his World Series ring having been won with the Marlins in 2003, and his most robust years having been spent with Twins.
With some capable young catchers ready to back up Joe Mauer, Redmond’s usefulness came to an end in Minnesota. The Indians signed him to help talented young pitcher Fausto Carmona get his head screwed on right, and also with the thinking that they might have enough to hang around a spell in the American League Central race. Carmona made the All-Star team, with Redmond as his personal catcher, but the injuries to players like Kerry Wood and Grady Sizemore stacked up and the losses stacked higher, and Redmond told his wife, Michele, one night, “No way I’m going to last.”
“In all honesty, they did me a favor,” Redmond said. “I appreciated the opportunity, but I’d been on good teams for the last seven or eight years and to lose that many games was really tough.”
He will not put in his retirement papers until he’s “100 percent sure,” and then decide if he’s prepared for re-entry into the game as a coach or minor-league manager. Truth is, however, he was “ready to start coaching a few years ago, I think” – though he insists he’s in no hurry.
Besides, he has a race date. On Saturday, he got up and ran 16 miles – before playing 18 holes and visiting the ballpark – in preparation for the Spokane Marathon in October, not exactly the typical post-baseball pursuit for a clunky old catcher.
“I have a buddy who’s done a lot of triathlons and was always saying, ‘When you retire, we’re doing a triathlon’ – and I said, ‘No, we’re not,’ ” Redmond said. “But I started thinking that I would like to try a marathon, just to see if I could do it. It’s actually been therapeutic for me in a sick way. You’re out there for two hours running, there’s a lot of time to think, about everything.”
Including 18 years of professional baseball – and a baseball card that didn’t like his odds of lasting that long.