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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jim Neidlinger Interview Part 2: In The Majors

Middlebury College pitching coach Jim Neidlinger with catcher Zach Roeder before warm-ups at Amherst College

Part 1: No Power Pitcher | Part 2: In The Majors | Part 3: Nothing More Exciting
After six seasons spent in the minors, in late July 1990, Jim Neidlinger finally got his call up to the major leagues. It was, next to his wedding day and the days his children were born, probably the best day of his life, Neidlinger recalled.

But, the time to marvel at his accomplishment was brief, Neidlinger said. Now, he had to perform.

"That all of a sudden leaves in a hurry when you're sitting in front of your locker and you're getting ready to make your first start in the big leagues," Neidlinger told The Greatest 12 Days in an interview recently, "and you've been working as hard as you have in the minor leagues, and you say to yourself, 'just don't do anything stupid so they have to send you back.'"

Neidlinger did far from that. In his major league debut for the Dodgers, pitching against the rival Giants, Neidlinger went six innings, giving up a single earned run.

It was a major league stint that would last a total of 65 days, Neidlinger recalled, "that's something you wouldn't trade for anything in the world."

He'd gotten there after being traded to the Dodgers from the Pirates following the 1988 season, asking the Dodgers simply for a chance at AAA. And after being invited to winter ball and playing in the Caribbean Series. That was in addition to his regular minor league workload.

In winter ball, Neidlinger pitched well, even winning pitcher of the year honors. He credited that stint with getting him back on the major league radar.

In the majors, Neidinger started strong. After that first outing, he went 7.2 innings in his second start and gave up no earned runs to the Reds at Riverfront Stadium. But one unearned run and Neidlinger got the loss.

That game was particularly tough, Neidlinger recalled, as Neidlinger and the Dodgers found themselves in a pennant race with the Reds.

Middlebury College pitching coach Jim Neidlinger watches over batting practice at Amherst College

But Neidlinger would even things up with Cincinnati, in September at Dodger Stadium, with an even better outing.

In that game, Sept. 7, Neidlinger went 8-plus innings, again giving up just one unearned run. This time, though, the Dodgers scored three.

Neidlinger recalled being pulled in the ninth inning. Dodger Stadium was still packed, something, Neidlinger noted, that isn't that common for that point in a Dodger Stadium game.

That packed crowd also gave him a standing ovation.

"It was a pretty nice feeling, that a lot of people appreciated what you just did," Neidlinger said. "That was one of my best moments in baseball, besides being called up to the bigs."

Middlebury College pitching coach Jim Neidlinger talks with players before a game at Amherst College

Neidlinger was in the majors realizing a dream he'd had since he was 8-years-old watching a game on TV and declaring he wanted to be like those players.

That declaration came three years after Neidlinger lost his father Jim to a dune buggy accident.

Neidlinger was 5 when his father died.

"Some parts of me wish he could have seen some of this stuff," Neidlinger said of his accomplishments. "The other parts of it, I look at is, in tragedy like this, depending on how people react, did that make me a little stronger?"

"On the other side of it, did that make me a little looser without having a male guidance in my life, someone to put a thumb on you sometimes," Neidlinger said.

He noted his mother had her hands full raising a couple of 6-foot boys.

"All in all, I miss my father, even today, every day of my life," Neidlinger said. "But I think it's also something that I've tried to use to make me stronger."

"In bad situations," Neidlinger added a little later, "there's always something good, if you look for it."

With Neidlinger, he worked into the pro ranks, through the minors and made the major leagues.

Making the major leagues, Neidlinger made it there having to leave his wife Ann back in Albuquerque, 8.5 months pregnant with their first child.

The night he got his second major-league win, Neidlinger rushed back to Albuquerque to witness the birth of his first child.

Part 3: Nothing More Exciting

Part 1: No Power Pitcher | Part 2: In The Majors | Part 3: Nothing More Exciting

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