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Remembering 2013: Revolution Alum Scott Rice makes MLB debut with Mets in 15th season

The dreaded off-season has arrived.  But fear not, despite news being a little slower this time of year, we have plenty of content to keep you occupied here at BlogToBlogChamps.  Each Monday, we’ll publish a feature from the 2013 York Revolutionary Times, the official game day magazine of the York Revolution for you to re-enjoy, or read for the first time in case you missed it at the ballpark.  We’ve written extensively about Scott Rice on the blog, and this week, we re-visit a conversation with him in Philadelphia from April as he finished his first week in the big leagues.  Rice, who’s stellar season was cut short by a hernia injury on September 6 was officially  transferred from the 60-Day Disabled List back to the Mets 40-man roster on October 31 shortly after his surgery, which bodes well for his roster spot in the Majors come next season.

Rice Mets Gear

By Paul Braverman

After 14 minor league seasons playing for 18 different teams, relief pitcher Scott Rice finally cracked a Major League roster coming out of spring training this year with the New York Mets.  The 31-year-old and former York Revolution left-hander had the distinction of being the oldest rookie on any Major League roster to begin this season.  After being drafted by the Orioles in 1999, Rice made his big league debut on Opening Day at Citi Field, and retired the Padres in order for a perfect ninth to close out an 11-2 Mets victory.  Rice struck out the first two big league batters he faced swinging.

They’ve written baseball books and made baseball movies about much lesser stories.  But Scott Rice is hardly doing this for the fame.

“I never thought about who would play me in a movie,” Rice said.  I don’t do this for anything like that; I do it because I love baseball.”

When Darrell Henry and I caught up with Rice prior to a game in Philadelphia, a week and a half into his 15th season but first in the bigs, his demeanor was one that showed more routine and relief rather than excitement. To confuse his straightforward approach as taking this opportunity for granted is a mistake though.  For all the questions he’s had to answer about finally reaching the Majors after the longest of roads, the least surprised person at this amazing story is Scott Rice himself.

“I never really doubted it; I always felt I had the ability to pitch in the big leagues.  My time in York with Mase and Etch, they told me I still had Major League abilities, you just need the opportunity.  That’s always how I’ve felt too.  So I’m just thankful this organization gave me the opportunity.”

It’s an ordinary, matter-of-fact response from Rice, who shows remarkable poise amidst a situation that is so extraordinary.  It’s one thing to repeat the token clichés when talking about “adversity” in sports – but it’s quite another to actually never give up on your dreams and continue to believe in yourself after 18 minor league stops.  To the even-keeled Rice, it’s the same game, just played a little better, a little more consistently.

“The atmosphere is great, it’s a little louder, there’s a lot more people there, but the excitement, the butterflies I got before playing my first game in York or anywhere else, that’s the same,” said Rice about his first day in the show.  “It’s still baseball, so you just go out there every day and play the game the same way.”

“I just went throughout the day preparing myself like I’ve done every other day,” said Rice of his first afternoon as a major leaguer.  “You can’t get too wrapped up in the moment.  It’s one of those things you can look back on, but when you have a job to do you have to be prepared.”

A season ago, Rice’s story seemed to be headed for a Hollywood ending – literally. After being plucked off the Revolution’s roster mid-way through the 2011 season by the Dodgers, Rice finished the year at Double-A Chattanooga.  The following spring he excelled in big league camp with L.A., surviving cut after cut, avoiding being assigned to Triple-A until the last day of spring training.  The Dodgers ultimately chose Josh Lindblom to fill their final available bullpen spot.

While a temporary setback, everyone around the Dodgers felt great about Rice’s performance, so much so that Manager Don Mattingly was quoted as saying “I plan on seeing him again.”  Rice’s eventual call-up to the Dodgers seemed like a foregone conclusion.  However, even after the Dodgers shipped Lindblom to the Phillies at the trade deadline, the call for Rice from Triple-A Albuquerque never came in 2012 despite a solid performance in the hitter-friendly high altitude and thin air.  Rice, a Southern California native, had come tantalizingly close to an ultimate childhood dream by putting on Dodger Blue in a Major League game.  He signed with the Mets as a free agent this offseason, and as usual took things in stride instead of sour grapes, looking ahead not behind as he’s always done, through all those stops far from the big leagues, and the numerous close calls in Triple-A.

“That was definitely disappointing; I grew up a Dodgers fan and thought I was going to break through with the Dodgers.  But that was last year, right now I’m just really excited about this year and happy to be a Met and to be with this organization.”

Even with his ascent to the Majors and his rubbing elbows with star teammates like David Wright, Rice has hardly forgotten the numerous lessons he accumulated in 14 minor league seasons, and had glowing things to say about his former pitching coach in York in particular.

“Mase was great.  He just let me pitch.  We had similar philosophies on how I should use my pitches.  We’d bounce ideas of each other to find something that worked.”

Rice has proven this moment isn’t too big for him, and how fitting it is after a brush with Hollywood fame, he finds himself on arguably a grander stage in New York.  Even when he’s 3,000 miles away from home, you get the sense that as long as he has a baseball field to go to, whether it’s in Ottawa, Tulsa or any of his other stops, Scott Rice is truly home.

There’s just one aspect of Atlantic League life that beats big league life –

“It’s a little bit tougher to find a place to live in New York City than York.”

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