Chad Cordero stood on the Nationals Park mound tonight for the first time since 2008, wearing a jersey that had become foreign over checkered shorts and flip-flops. Cordero, the Nationals’ flat-brimmed closer and high-wire personification of their magical first half of the 2005 season, never thought he would be here like this, throwing out the first pitch before the game vs. the Braves, at age 30.
“I knew the fans were behind me and supported me,” Cordero said. “But I didn’t think this would ever happen. I didn’t think I would be throwing out a first pitch in a Nationals uniform. It’s pretty cool. I’m pretty pumped just to be asked to do this. It means so much. To have my family, my kids here, too, it makes it even better.”
Cordero received a warm standing ovation, though Friday traffic and gray weather kept the crowd small and prevented a thunderous cheer. Cordero chucked a fastball high and outside to Drew Storen, the closer of the past throwing to the closer of the future.
Although the beginnings of Cordero’s departure in 2008 were acrimonious, he has only warm feelings toward Washington and the Nationals. He considers himself a fan and checks the team’s Web site daily for scores and updates. He watched Ryan Zimmerman grow up for three years, and Ross Detwiler pitched for the Nationals during his final, truncated season.
“I still have a connection here,” Cordero said. “I try to follow them as much as possible. I still love it here. It’s like the Nationals were my family for four years. You can’t just cut ties with your family. It’s always going to be with me. They treated me so well when I was here. That’s why I’ll always be a fan of them, no matter what.”
In 2005, Cordero helped the city fall in love with baseball again. He lived on the edge and saved 47 games, still a franchise record. Those Nationals matched this year’s for the opening months, but they tailed off in the second half and finished with a .500 record. Cordero sees a very different kind of team now.
“Hopefully, this is the year the town of D.C. gets to see a playoff game here,” Cordero said. “I know we tried to give it to them that first year. That first year was magical. … We played very well. Unfortunately, we kind of dived in the second half. This team, I don’t think they’re going to do that. I think they have the pitching staff to go out there and make it happen. That’s how good they are, every five days. We didn’t have that. We had Livan [Hernandez], who would go out there and give us eight, nine innings every outing. But after that, we didn’t have anything. I think this could be the year they make a run.”
Cordero is taking this year off after attempting a comeback last year with the Toronto Blue Jays. Cordero suffered through family tragedy in the offseason prior the spring of 2011, when his baby daughter, Tehya, died of sudden infant death syndrome. He had been trying to stick with a team since 2008, when he appeared in only six games for the Nationals after undergoing shoulder surgery. He made it back to the majors as a call-up with the Mariners in 2010, but nothing more.
“It’s been kind of tough, especially when it first happened,” Cordero said. “When I first got hurt, I thought I could come back right away. The shoulder, it’s just one of those things where it’s kind of hit-or-miss. You might not feel it one day, but the next two days you might feel awful. Fortunately for me, for the first couple years after my surgery, it just never came back.
“Trying to come back last year after my daughter passed away, it was a tough thing. I should have stayed home, been with the family. But was trying so much to do it for Tehya, trying to keep her memory alive. I just tried too hard. I should have taken a step back and stayed home last year.
“This winter, I went home and I thought about it. I said I just want to be with my family. Especially after my wife was pregnant, I said I want to be here for the kid no matter what for his first year. I don’t want to miss a single day. It’s been fun, being home for the last year and a half. Seeing my daughter rise up for the first time. As a baseball player, you don’t really see those moments. Luckily for me, I’ve been able to do that.”
Cordero does not plan on staying home for long. Still only 30, he’s not ready to call it a career. He plans on launching another comeback this offseason, starting with winter ball in the Caribbean. In town this week for youth clinics reminded Cordero, again, how much he misses the game.
“The itch is definitely back,” Cordero said. “I want to go out there, I want to play again. Especially after this week, going out there and playing with all these little kids, I want to go out there and play again. It’s still real hard to watch baseball but I make myself do it because I’m a fan of the game. I want to get out there and throw again. I want to get out there and try it back out.”
He stood in front of a crowd again tonight, reunited with Storen for the first time since their chance meeting in 2003. Cordero was a rookie, 21 years old, for the Montreal Expos. Storen had used a connection to be the Expos’ batboy. He was helping shag batting practice when Cordero came up to him.
“I remember that very well,” Cordero said. “It was weird, because I didn’t realize that was him and it was the same kid until I read the story about him. But I remember him. He was standing all by himself in right center, nobody was talking to him, nobody was coming close to him. I was a rookie, I was like ‘I don’t know any better, I’m going to go out and talk to this kid.’ Because who knows? You might be talking to a guy who might be taking your job one day — and I kind of did.
“But it was cool. He was a nice kid. He was just taking everything in. To see him back here, it’s kind of odd, him being drafted by the Nationals and all, but it’s kind of cool at the same time. He’s done well. I’m glad to see him have some success.”
Last year, Storen came close to reaching Cordero’s team saves record, closing out 43 games himself. “I took a huge sigh of relief when he didn’t,” Cordero said. “But I think he’ll get it one day. Whether it’s next year or the year after, I think he’s definitely going to beat my 47 saves here. It’ll be a sad day when he does, but at the same time it’ll be really cool to see him do that.”
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