Denny Stark remembers better days, both his and those of the Seattle Mariners.
He was a raw rookie not long out of college when he first came to camp with Seattle in 1998. And when he looks back, it's hard for him to believe he was part of it.
"Now, you realize there were three, four guys in that clubhouse who will be in the Hall of Fame," Stark said. "There was Griffey and Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez … I knew they were great players. I was happy to be in the same building with them."
Stark pitched for the Mariners in 1999 and again in 2001, then was included in the trade with Colorado that brought Jeff Cirillo to Seattle. In his first year as a Rockie, Stark blossomed – he went 11-4 with a 4.00 earned run average.
Since then, his right arm has betrayed him. Injuries ravaged him and Stark wound up having not one but two 'Tommy John' surgeries to rebuild his right elbow. He didn't throw a pitch for two years. He couldn't.
Last year, Seattle brought him back as a minor leaguer, and after proving himself healthy in Class AA, he moved to Tacoma and made 10 appearances there, going 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA.
That got him an invitation to camp this spring as a non-roster invitee. There may be a happier man in the clubhouse, but he'd be hard to find.
"When you're out of this game you know how much you miss it, how much you appreciated everything – from the kidding in the clubhouse to the competition on the field," said Star, who's now 34. "Being back here, it's wonderful. I know how fragile your career can be. I know I wanted to come back and pitch, at least get the chance, and I'm getting that."
Stark is so far down the depth chart he may not even register, but that hasn't discouraged him. Major surgery? That discouraged him. Spending two years at home discouraged him.
"I'm in a major league camp with major league players, working with major league coaches," Stark said. "Whatever happens, I'm pitching again. If I can make an impression, who knows? I'm certainly not going to worry about it. I'm getting an opportunity I wasn't sure I'd ever get again, and I'm enjoying it. Beyond that, we'll see."