Every ballplayer reaches the day when he redefines his identity, and Chad Tracy knew Monday could have been his. When he left to play in Japan last year, he wondered if he would ever see the majors again. He played well for the Nationals this spring, but that only put him on the edge of their roster.
Monday, he landed on the right side. Four players on the bubble – Stephen Lombardozzi, Brett Carroll, Xavier Nady and Tracy – learned they had made the opening day roster. None treasured it more than Tracy. He has experienced the full gamut of a baseball career – prospect on the rise, major league debut, everyday player, waning career – and he did not want to experience the final step. And he will not, at least not yet.
“You go from figuring out what you’re going to do for the rest of your life,” Tracy said, “to now back to doing what you want to do, and you love to do.”
Tracy, 31, has been hanging on for the past few years. At age 25, in 2005, he played 145 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks and slapped up a 132 OPS+. He played another 154 games the next year, but his production waned. Tracy hasn’t played in more than 100 games since. Last year, he tried to keep his career alive in Japan, and it was a miserable experience.
This spring, he knew, was his last shot. He started slowly, like he figured he would. Manager Davey Johnson kept giving him at-bats, and after his first 30 at-bats, Tracy started to feel his swing come back. In the final days of camp, Tracy tried to block out his roster chances. Today, he exhaled.
“It makes it real sweet,” Tracy said. “It’s really emotional for me. I’m not going to show that in front of my teammates and all, but when I get home, to just soak it up and, just kind of take it all in, I’m sure I’ll reflect on this past year. And it’s been a long year.”
Tracy has made teams before, years ago, but this time felt different. A beginning is not the same as a near end.
“As a young player, you’re a prospect, and your time will come, and you’ll go down at the first injury that happens,” Tracy said. “You’ll get through it. But at this point in your career, your next injury could be the last time you ever play. If you don’t make the team, who knows what my decision would have been to go to Triple-A or not.”
Once Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel return from the disabled list, Tracy may have to make that decision. It could happen with two weeks. But for now, Chad Tracy is a big leaguer again, still doing what he loves to do.