Determined Bonderman has comeback in mind
Right-hander coming off Tommy John surgery, hasn't pitched in Majors since 2010
As Bonderman talked on the phone Friday morning, he was simultaneously a dad and a workout nut. He had to drop off his two kids at daycare before meeting up with his personal trainer at a gym near his home in Washington state. He's working out six days a week, he said, and running five or six days a week.
The former Tigers right-hander said he feels better than ever, and he talked about getting down to his high school weight with an immense sense of pride. He wishes, of course, he had done all this years ago, when he seemingly had greatness in his destiny.
"I wish I had worked out this hard when I was younger," he said, "but hindsight's 20-20."
Bonderman talks about a comeback bid with the perspective of someone approaching age 40. His 30th birthday, however, was just two weeks ago. Breaking into Major League Baseball at age 20 will have that effect.
So will seemingly washing out of baseball before turning 28.
"I haven't been healthy in a long, long, long time," he said between moments conversing with his kids. "I feel like I did when I was 20. You have that pep and that giddy-up."
Bonderman can't say this was the script he laid out for a career when he walked away, to recharge and come back. He hoped a year or two off would give his arm new life after years of innings and aches and sliders and surgeries, but he couldn't be sure. He also didn't know how he would come back from Tommy John surgery last spring, fixing an elbow ligament he blew out trying to throw two offseasons ago.
He also didn't know if all that time off would change his passion for the game. When he went home after the 2010 season, he was looking forward to hunting and fishing. He has had two years of that.
Bonderman still hunts, but he also runs. His wife, Amber, has completed a half-marathon, he said, and he challenges himself to see how long he can keep up with her. He's running a 5K race around Thanksgiving, and he has plans for a 10K race after that.
"I can run 3.5 [miles] with her, for sure," he said.
Bonderman also changed his diet, taking out some of the foods that contributed to him putting on pounds during the latter stages of his playing years.
None of this sounds like the guy who spent the better part of seven years in the Tigers' rotation, even after having to work out like crazy to try to come back from surgeries -- the first one for thoracic outlet syndrome, the second to repair nerve damage.
Bonderman came back, but he now admits he was never really healthy. He never really let on how tough it was pitching through a full season in 2010, though the drop in velocity on his fastball as the year went along was a pretty good hint.
He looked like someone trying to hold onto his career, yet he was just 27. As young as this year's Tigers rotation was, it had four starters -- Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez -- age 28 and up.
Bonderman loves to run, but he also loves to throw. He has life on the ball when he plays catch, and he's scheduled to begin throwing off a mound in about a week. Barring a setback, he's supposed to be physically ready for the start of Spring Training in February, ready to take part in full workouts.
All he needs is a team.
"Just working out every day and waiting to see what happens," he said.
Mentally, Bonderman is already there. He largely stayed away from the game for the last couple years, though he visited the Tigers when they came to Seattle. When Detroit made it to the postseason with an American League Division Series matchup against Oakland, he made the trip down the coast to visit the team at its hotel in San Francisco.
He has stayed in touch with longtime ex-teammate Verlander, and they had lunch. While he was there, however, Bonderman talked with staff about how he was feeling and what he was planning.
The Tigers already have a pretty set rotation, whether or not they re-sign Sanchez. Still, no team knows Bonderman like Detroit.
When Bonderman became a free agent two years ago, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski had a standing invitation to him for a Minor League contract and a Spring Training invite. Dombrowski won't comment on Bonderman's situation now, saying he can't talk about current free agents.
FOXSports.com reported Friday that the Tigers have offered Bonderman a contract. If they have, it's apparently news to Bonderman, but he said he has left contract matters to his agent.
For now, at least, Bonderman sounds like someone watching the market, still trying to figure out what he wants.
"I'm just seeing what all is out there right now," he said. "But I have talked to Detroit."
If Bonderman gets an invite from a team with a rotation opening, it might make sense for him, although he would have to leave 6-year-old daughter Mailee and 3-year-old son Tripp at home.
Mailee remembers her father pitching, he said, but Tripp doesn't. He admits there's an appeal to giving his kids the chance to watch Dad pitch again. But it's more than that.
The health and the passion are there. All he needs is a chance, as odd as that sounds at age 30.
"I've just worked out harder than I've worked in my life to get to the point where I could go out and play," he said.