When Freddy Garcia burst into the Seattle Mariners rotation in 1999, he won 17 games and had a future as bright as his smile, and this week Garcia signed a one-year contract to pitch for the New York Yankees in his 14th big-league season.
An inspiration to fellow Venezuelan pitchers - Felix Hernandez, for instance, wears No. 34 in his honor - Garcia's career has rebounded from disappointment, near ruin and injuy.
Garcia never seemed to max out his considerable abilities, and after a career-best 18 wins in 2001 never won more than 16 games in a year. A happy-go-lucky player, margaritas, women and injury assisted a decline so severe that from 2007 to 2009 he won only five times and was all but out of baseball.
It's impossible to dislike Garcia, who lost his fastball along the way but has learned to pitch. He signed a $5 million contract with the Yankees this week because he earned it - winning 12 games for them in each of the last two seasons.
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Now 35, Garcia's appetites are considerably healthier, his appreciation of the game has grown. It wasn't the easiest path to take, but Garcia has reached a place in his career where he's regained the respect of his peers and, perhaps, himself.
Congrats on the new deal, Chief.