Miami Marlins

Veterans grateful for second chance at the Miami Marlins

 

Special to The Miami Herald

A week ago, Kevin Slowey was battling his way through Marlins camp as a long-shot candidate and a nonroster invitee, two years removed from playing in the majors.

At the same time, Koyie Hill was at the Big 12 championship in Kansas City.

In Fort Myers, the Marlins game was dictated by the two unlikely candidates working together: Slowey was named the club’s fifth starter, and Hill got his first start behind the plate.

“I think one of the blessings and curses of athletes, and baseball players especially, is the ability and the need to forget what happened the day before, or the year before, or two years before,” Slowey said.

“The way I threw yesterday isn’t going to affect the way that I throw the next outing, and that can be good when you have a tough outing or a tough year.”

It’s easy to throw out that Slowey had three doubt-digit win seasons before falling off the map in 2011 with an 0-8 season, and spending 2012 in the minors. Those are tough times.

Hill spent less than a month with the Chicago Cubs before bouncing around to three Triple A clubs last season.

When camp opened in February, the Miami clubhouse was full of stories well-removed from the majors, but it was also full of open doors.

“I don’t know that I would say I was disinterested in playing minor-league baseball, because that would come across like I was above it, which is not the case at all,” Hill said. “But I would like to play for an organization that saw me as someone that could help them immediately at a major-league level.”

At 34, he wanted to make sure his opportunity to play at the highest level was a legitimate one before he left his family behind. He signed with the Marlins in the final week of camp, with a visible gap behind the plate as catcher Jeff Mathis recovers from an early spring broken collarbone.

“I feel like your priorities change a little bit when you start having a family,” Hill said. “Things that you’d run off and go do when you’re younger, you might think about a bit more.”

Manager Mike Redmond’s work has been cut out for him, opening camp with more than 70 players, some there for experience, and some there to fight for a role with the team. Perhaps because he knows what it’s like to battle, Redmond has a profound ability to see things from every perspective in the room.

“I don’t think there’s one guy that can say ‘I really wasn’t treated fairly,’ and I think that’s a testament to [Redmond] and the job he did,” Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said.

Whether it’s Slowey, who pitched to a then-player Redmond in his major-league debut in 2007, or Hill, who can look to the path the manager took, it’s apparent that there is a great deal of respect for the first-year manager.

“I see myself a lot like Red, where you kind of have to grind it every day and you’re climbing up a mountain that you may never get to the top of,” Hill said.

When the Minnesota Twins visited Wrigley Stadium for interleague play in 2009, Hill had a chance to pick Redmond’s brain.

“From what I remember, I spent our whole batting practice and their whole batting practice in the outfield talking to [Redmond],” Hill said. “I was intrigued with how he did it and his mind-set with everything.”

There was an energy in the clubhouse every day throughout the spring, as though there had been no upheaval in the offseason.

“Given everything that’s gone on with the ball club and the franchise externally, I think from almost the minute we got on the field, things were pretty cool,” Beinfest said of the spring. “I don’t think that’s stopped.”

Slowey packed his locker up Thursday, not to head next door to the minor-league side, but as a member of the big club that is heading to New Orleans on Saturday, and the season’s Opening Day in Washington. He’s thrilled about making the team.

“For me in this camp, it was important that I stayed in the moment in each day, worried about what I had to do that day,” he said. “In years past, I may have gotten caught up in trying to prognosticate where I was going to be at the end of camp or a week later or two weeks later. This year, I was thankful to just say, ‘One day at a time.’ ”

As of Friday, Hill’s fate hadn’t been decided. The way he speaks as he’s unpacking new cleats and Marlins gear, his last day at camp seems like Christmas morning. Working with Slowey on Wednesday in Fort Myers felt like how things should be.

“I won’t say it’s like riding a bike because I wouldn’t dare say it’s that easy, but it felt great,” he said. “I know it’s kind of cliché, but I do feel 24 again, which is a good decade ago.”

Beinfest expects that the roster for Opening Day will be set by Saturday, though like most things at Marlins camp, the motto might be to expect the unexpected. Regardless of any external notions that Marlins Park won’t be an exciting place to watch baseball, the electricity from the clubhouse tells a different story.

“There’s nothing like Major League Baseball, and I’m looking forward to getting back out there,” Slowey said. “I can’t imagine a better spot to do it.”

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