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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Interview Part 4: Aaron Small, Couldn't Script

Yankee Stadium in June 2005. Aaron Small walked off the mound to a standing ovation there that September. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: Stadium Sounds | Part 2: Good Things
Part 3: Every Day | Part 4: Couldn't Script

Aaron Small's call up to the Yankees had come suddenly. But he got some help in spreading the word.

That's because Small debuted with the club on national television, starting against the Texas Rangers.

One old friend, Small recalled, was watching the game with a buddy on a business trip. The friend blurted out "hey, I know that guy, he's a friend of mine," the friend relayed later.

"Stories like that started to surface," Small recalled of his run with the Yankees. "People were following me. Old teammates I played with were calling me, emailing me, sending me letters. It was a neat thing."

Soon, many more people were paying attention. Small won that first start against Texas. He won his second start and then his third. In the end, he got his 10-0 record and helped the Yankees to the division title.

It really was a dream, Small said.
SafeCo Field in Seattle in 2007. Aaron Small picked up his fifth win of 2005 at SafeCo. (Greatest 21 Days)
"That's how amazing this is," Small said. "If I said otherwise, I would be lying. ... It was incredible having that experience for a team like that, in a pennant race trying to win the division."

And he got 10 wins and no losses.

"That was something that, No. 1, God had scripted," Small said. "I couldn't have scripted that. It was something you couldn't even write for a book. I wouldn't have come up with something that good for my life."

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 youth baseball facility.

Small traced his career from its beginnings as a youth in suburban Los Angeles to the pros and eventually to the majors.

He also traced his trek back to the majors and to New York all after nearly quitting the game and turning to his faith to continue.

Small won his first three games for the Yankees as a starter. His second win came in his first start at Yankee Stadium as a Yankee.He went seven innings and gave up three earned.
The former Oakland Coliseum in 2012. Aaron Small pitched a complete-game shutout there for his sixth win of 2005. (Greatest 21 Days)
Through the end of August, he was 5-0. He got an extra-inning relief win Aug. 13 against Texas. His fifth win was also in relief.

Then came the Sept. 3 game against one of his old teams, the Athletics. That win was special in multiple ways, Small said. It was in Oakland, so his family was there. And what they got to see was a complete-game shutout.

By the seventh inning, Small and the Yankees had a 7-0 lead. He recalled pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre asking how Small was doing. Should the bullpen get going?

"No," Small recalled responding. "I want to finish this."

He finished it. He gave up a single in the eighth and a double in the ninth. No Athletic scored.

His seventh win came in his next start, Sept. 9 against the Red Sox. Small gave up four runs, but his Yankees scored eight. Small made it one out into the seventh, when he was lifted for a reliever.

As he walked back to the dugout, the Yankees crowd showed its appreciation by giving him a standing ovation. Clips from that broadcast and others in his run are available in a montage video posted to YouTube.
Camden Yards in July 2005. Aaron Small picked up his 10th and final win that year at Camden. (Greatest 21 Days)
"Wow, what that must feel like for him," Yankees announcer Suzyn Waldman says as he approaches the dugout. "He just tipped his cap - 55,000 people standing and cheering."

The next morning, Small recalled one of the papers calling him the club's "New Ace."

"I thought, 'Man, we've got guys like Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson on this staff and they're calling me ace?'" Small recalled. "It was bizarre."

The nice, round win No. 10 came Sept. 29 at Baltimore. Small went 6.2 innings, giving up two earned as his Yankees again won 8-4.

"All 10 games, looking back, they were very meaningful," Small said. "I was definitely blessed to be able to do that and pitch with such an amazing team."

Small came back for 2006, but he was limited by a hamstring injury. He didn't make it back to the club until mid-May. He wasn't he same. This time, the zero was on the win side. In 11 outings, three starts, he went 0-3.

He gave it one more try in spring 2007 with the Mariners, but he soon retired. He hasn't looked back, he said.
Yankee Stadium in June 2005. Aaron Small started his 10-0 run the next month. (Greatest 21 Days)
Small now keeps himself busy with his family, his church and his own baseball facility called Aaron Small's Baseball Barn.

They settled in east Tennessee because that's where his wife is from - they met when he played minor league ball in Knoxville. His baseball facility s actually her family's old farm.

He's a youth minister and he plays guitar at their church. He and his wife also work with foster children. They have two children of their own, daughter Mariah is a sophomore in high school and son Mason is an eighth grader.

He said he enjoys working with young players at his facility.

"I love it that I can watch these kids develop and to try and get them to be as good as they can be," Small said. "It's very rewarding to try and get these kids get better and watching them enjoy getting better."

He's also been back to Yankee Stadium to take part in Old-Timers' Days. The pitcher who almost quit the game before ever taking the field for the Yankees, is now invited back for the club's Old-Timers' Day.

He's been to five of them now and they're amazing, he said.

"To be lumped with all those names that show up there," Small said, "I'm definitely blown away and honored and humbled."

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

Be sure and read Part 1: Aaron Small, Stadium Sounds

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