'How's it going?' Let Daniel Bard tell you how

Comeback POY reflects on incredible '20 return after 7 years away

December 24th, 2020

DENVER -- In a year of “How it started vs. How it’s going,” has Rockies right-handed relief pitcher got a story for you.

It started last November with Bard -- his Major League career having halted in 2013 because of control problems, his last comeback attempt having fizzled in 2017 -- throwing into a net in his front yard at his Greenville, S.C., home.

How’s it going? Look at the honors -- National League Comeback Player of the Year from the Players Choice Awards, Sporting News and MLB, plus the prestigious Tony Conigliaro Award. Bard, 35, didn’t just make it back to the Majors, he made an impact -- 4-2 record, six saves and a 3.65 ERA in 23 games in an odd 2020.

“I don't know if I've got my head around it,” Bard said. “If I could have told myself what was gonna happen in a few years, I would never believe in a million years.”

“How it started vs. How it’s going” may be the cool meme craze. The real story is the improbable in-between.


Right around last Christmas, a day with his younger brother -- Angels right-hander Luke Bard -- put it all into motion.

“I threw off the mound for the first time in 2 1/2 years,” Daniel Bard said. “I threw into a net. My brother was with me, with a radar gun. I just wanted to see where I was. That was the first test.

“We were laughing, had a good time. It was just the two of us at the workout facility. I went in saying, ‘If I can throw 95 for a strike, I’ll make a comeback,’ kind of joking. I did not get to 95, but I threw 91, 92, 93 and was throwing a bunch of strikes -- enough to where I said I’m going to come back in 10 days and do it again. And that day I did it, with a catcher and everything.”

Bard was already into his second career -- a player mentor and mental-skills coach with the D-backs since 2018. But, throwing 95 mph with control, his old job was calling.

“I flew out here to talk to them, gave them the first opportunity if they wanted to give me a tryout or sign me,” Bard said of the D-backs. “They didn’t, for conflict-of-interest reasons I think, which is fine.

“It was actually the best blessing in disguise I ever got. At first I’m like, man, they didn’t want to sign me, so I’ve gotta put myself out there. I’d never done a tryout.”


During Spring Training, Bard rounded up some catchers from independent leagues and hosted a tryout at a Phoenix high school. Scouts from 10-15 teams attended. All the teams but one interviewed him. Jon Weil, the Rockies’ assistant general manager (player personnel), cleared out quickly but effectively.

“I’ve gotten to know Jon pretty well since then,” Bard said. “He said he saw me throw. He said, ‘I knew it was good, so I got in my car, called right away and said let’s get him signed.’ It took a few days, and some other teams made some good offers, but the Rockies were ultimately the best fit.”

Bard threw 2 1/3 innings over three Spring Training games before the shutdown. Back in Greenville, he made the most of his time. Indians infielder Mike Freeman, Rangers infielder Eli White, Rays right-hander David Hess, who pitched with the Orioles in 2020, and free-agent righty Heath Hembree, who pitched with the Phillies and Red Sox last season, and more pros participated in twice-a-week workouts.

“I used that time to face hitters as much as I could -- I was begging them to get in the box against me,” Bard said. “Hitters with live batting practice are not as into it as the pitchers. Some of them are, but some just want to track [and see pitches without swinging] and say, ‘I don’t want to get hit in a meaningless situation.’ I don’t blame them at all.

“But I ended up throwing 10 separate live BPs, anywhere from 25-40 pitches, and really got super comfortable with it.”

Better prepared when baseball resumed, Bard threw so well in the Summer Camp that Rockies manager Bud Black had no doubt the right-hander could help the bullpen from the start of the 60-game season.

“I still thought I was going to have to go to the alternate site,” Bard said. “When that meeting was called [to announce my roster spot], I was kind of blown away. If you had told me at the beginning of this that I was going to skip the Minor Leagues altogether, I wouldn’t have believed you or sure.”


Bard’s win over the Rangers on July 25, in his first outing, was his first since May 29, 2012, for the Red Sox. His save over his old mentees on the D-backs on Aug. 11 was his first since June 5, 2011, for Boston over the A's.

“The appreciation and gratitude stuck with me all the way to the end,” he said. “I hope I don’t lose that the rest of the way. As far as the comfort and confidence of standing on the mound, knowing what was going to happen, it was two or three weeks in. Buddy [Black] kept putting me in big situations and I kept throwing well.”

Of the honors, Bard is particularly touched by the Tony Conigliaro Award, having pitched for the Red Sox -- Tony C’s team -- from 2009-13. Also, he is the third Rockies pitcher to win it, after Aaron Cook (2005) -- who would become his Red Sox teammate -- and Chad Bettis (2015).

“I looked at the list after I found out,” Bard said. “It was an unbelievable list of guys. Everyone has an unbelievable story.”


Bard acknowledged the oddity of having the year of his life in a 2020 that has been so rough for so many.

“I almost feel guilty at times, I’m not going to lie,” Bard said. “But I’m enjoying every minute of it. It’s been awesome for my family, my wife and kids. We experienced a lot of cool things this year. I try to enjoy it but be aware of everything that’s going on in the world. Not everybody’s having a great year.”

Bard and his wife, Adair, are raising three young children, plus there is a pandemic. Still, he makes time for the many players in the midst of the failure and confusion that he has shed.

“Whether it’s through social media or different coaches I’ve had in the past that have a player who wants to talk to me or teammates, I’ve spoken to a fair share,” Bard said. “I can’t talk to everybody. I wish I could. Hopefully, there’s a way I can help everybody that needs it -- at least tell them the story and what helped me.”