Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Interview Part 3: Aaron Small, Every Day

Yankee Stadium in 2003. Aaron Small got called up to the Yankees in 2005 and went 10-0. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: Stadium Sounds | Part 2: Good Things
Part 3: Every Day | Part 4: Couldn't Script

Aaron Small almost stayed home. He almost didn't come back.

This was All-Star break 2005 and he was frustrated with himself and frustrated with the state of his career.

A one-time major league regular, those days for Small had long since passed. From 1999 to this point in 2005, he had seen only eight major league appearances total.

He had finally reached the point where he was ready to quit. Before he made his final decision, though, he turned to his faith and prayed

"The only thing I could do was pray," Small recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently. "I prayed to God and I said, 'I want to quit and walk away from this game, but I know that you still have a plan for me and I don't feel like you're wanting me to walk away from this game yet.'"

Instead of walking away, hours later Small walked back into the locker room. He also got the news: He was on his way back to the majors.

Unknown to anyone, he was also on his way into Yankee lore.
Yankee Stadium in June 2005, the month before Aaron Small started his 10-0 run. (Greatest 21 Days)
He won in his first appearance, a start at Texas, and he kept winning. Soon, he became the Yankees' fifth starter. By the time the season was over, Small was a sensation.

Small's magical run didn't end until the season ended. He was 10-0. He helped the Yankees to another division win.

He also earned regular invitations to return to Yankee Stadium for Yankees Old-Timers' Day, honored among the Yankees' best.

"That was incredible," Small said of his run. "You talk about a dream. Reporters asked me daily after I started winning games for the Yankees, they asked, 'Do you have to pinch yourself?' I said, 'Yeah, every day."

Small spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from Tennessee, where he lives with his family and where he teaches the game to youth at his own academy.

Small traced his career from its beginnings as a youth in suburban Los Angeles to the pros and eventually to the majors.
The Diamond in Richmond in 2011. Aaron Small pitched for Richmond at The Diamond in 2001 and 2002. (Greatest 21 Days)
In the middle of that career was a five-year stretch where he only recorded a single major league out. On the other side of that stretch, though, was that run with the Yankees.

Small's last significant major league time before 2005 came in 1998. He split 47 major league appearances that year between Oakland and Arizona. That was the year after he got into 71 games for the Athletics in one season.

He then returned to the minors. From 1999 to early 2005, Small stayed largely at AAA. He also played for seven different organizations.

Small returned to the majors briefly with Atlanta in 2002. He got a single out. In 2004, he returned with the Marlins. He got into seven games. Then, in 2005, he signed with the Yankees and started the year at AAA Columbus.

Throughout that stretch, Small recalled believing he could still pitch and pitch in the majors.

"I never felt like it was time to give up," Small said. "I still had that passion for the game. I said that as long as a team wants me to pitch for them, I felt like I could still get big league hitters out."
The former Pro Player Stadium in 2011. Aaron Small pitched seven games for the Marlins in 2004. (Greatest 21 Days)
He would take a job in the minors and continue to try and get back to the majors.

That's what Small did in 2005 when he signed with the Yankees. Early on, it seemed like he would get back quickly.

Small recalled being told three times that he was going to New York to fill in for someone who got hurt. Each time, they took it back and he remained at AAA.

Small admitted he responded poorly to that.

"I started becoming selfish with a bad attitude," Small said. "I'm not proud to say that."

"I started to get very down and very down and out about baseball," Small said, "and I was just ready to give up and walk away from it."
Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton, NJ, in 2014. Aaron Small pitched one game at Trenton in 2005. He later made New York and went 10-0. (Greatest 21 Days)
It took him the first half of the season to come to that realization.

The he turned to his faith. He also got called up to New York.

Small was 33 years old. He was 1-4 at AAA Columbus. He even had a start that year at AA Trenton. Between them, he had a 4.83 ERA.

"That doesn't deserve getting called up," Small said. "That deserves getting released.

"God had a plan for my life and that's what I tell people to this day," Small said. "And I know that for a fact."

Called up, Small headed the big club in the Bronx. He also headed for win No. 1 against the Rangers. (Part 4)

Part 1: Stadium Sounds | Part 2: Good Things
Part 3: Every Day | Part 4: Couldn't Script

Go to Part 4: Aaron Small, Couldn't Script

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