From carpenter to MLB hurler: Booser's wild journey to debut

April 20th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- will likely never forget the date: Feb. 21, 2021.

Booser had officially moved on from professional baseball more than three years prior, but through a bit of fate, he found himself on a mound for the first time since then. He wasn’t playing a game. He didn’t strike anyone out. There were hardly any witnesses. But he felt it, something that had eluded him in his first try.

“I realized there was no pain,” Booser said. “We can still throw in the upper 90s. That’s when I thought I would give it a shot.”

Of course, it wasn’t as simple as saying he was ready to give it another go. No comeback journey as long as that of the 31-year-old lefty reliever, who was called up by the Red Sox ahead of their 8-1 win over the Pirates on Friday, could ever be that easy.

The winding path Booser took began with the Twins in 2013. After five seasons of middling results that left him stalled in High-A ball, Minnesota attempted to convert him to an outfielder, which proved to be unsuccessful.

This followed years of obstacles in Booser’s development, including Tommy John surgery, labrum surgery, a broken back following a bike accident, a 50-game suspension for testing positive for marijuana and self-admitted attitude problems. After the 2017 season, Booser decided to call it quits.

So instead of building a career as a pitcher, Booser moved home to Seattle and built something else: acoustical ceilings.

Booser joined the Northwest Carpenters Union in the area, Local 41, to work for the company that his father had worked at for many years. He admits that in terms of construction, he was a Minor Leaguer compared to his coworkers who could “do it in their sleep.”

But he was harboring the same dream he’d had when he was signed as an undrafted free agent with the Twins.

“Every day I was working in construction, I thought about the game,” Booser said. “Every single day.”

To get there, he couldn’t do it with a snap of the finger. It took some baby steps. Or in his case, kid-sized steps.

Booser’s return to baseball began by giving back to the game, teaching baseball lessons to children in the area. He began to spend more time at the ballpark, and that evolved into more hours after practice, throwing in the dark -- sometimes to the kids he was training.

“I didn’t think about ever actually making a comeback until I started working with them,” Booser said. “It was just the more I was around the game, the more I couldn’t not be around it. It was like it just pulled me back in.

“I just decided one day that I was going to leave work and go all in on this, and I haven’t looked back since.”

A friend of Booser pushed him to take the next step: Getting a trainer. That became Kyle Rogers, a former instructor at Driveline Baseball, who saw the potential and began to post videos of Booser’s sessions on Twitter, including his first time facing hitters in four years.

Before MLB came calling, independent ball did. The Chicago Dogs of the American Association signed Booser in the summer of 2021, and in his professional debut, he topped out at 101 mph. The D-backs took notice of Booser’s strong work at Chicago, and they signed him to a Minor League deal on Feb. 16, 2022 -- five days before his one-year anniversary of stepping on the mound again.

A little over one year later, Booser made his Major League debut with the Red Sox, working around a first-pitch triple and recording his first Major League strikeout in a one-run ninth inning. In the process, he struck out former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen for his first K. Booser, 31, became the oldest Red Sox player (excluding those who played in Japan) to make his Majors debut since 32-year-old Tommy Fine (April 26, 1947).

"It was the most adrenaline I've ever experienced, but it was great. It was all excitement," Booser said.

Manager Alex Cora said he was on the call with Triple-A Worcester manager Chad Tracy when he delivered the news to Booser that he was finally a Major Leaguer.

“It didn’t resonate with him,” Cora said. “[Tracy was] like, ‘Yeah, for Alex, in Pittsburgh.’ And that’s where he let the emotions go. Like I told him today, there’s only 780 of them in the world today -- big leaguers -- and nobody can take that away from him.”

Did Booser ever have doubts that he could reach this moment?

“Definitely. Most of my career I would say,” Booser said. “The first part of my career was, by my own doing, pretty bad. I made a few mistakes. But I think when I was able to come back and get a better head on my shoulders, things were a lot more clear.”

Booser went from toiling in the lower levels to now recording 25 strikeouts to one walk across Spring Training and Triple-A to begin this season by doing the only thing you can do in this tough game: He learned from his failures. His command is better. His mindset is better.

But Booser’s story of redemption? It’s among the best.

“It’s been a long journey, but it’s been a good one,” he said.