"Maybe because I came so close to throwing it all away before, I'm even more frightened. You'd think that this season I might be a little more relaxed. Instead, I'm worried about how many more years I can do this. And what happens to me when I'm finito, when I'm gassed?"
But surely there must be some enjoyment in what he is doing?
"There is for the other part of me," he says. "When I go out there, there are, like, two me's. It's an out-of-body thing. Inside, I'm scared. But outside, I like to watch myself put on the cape."
"No, more like Mighty Mouse. Here I come to save the day."
Eckersley's drive to succeed—or, rather, not to fail—is clear in his workout routine, which is unusually arduous for a baseball player and especially so for a relief pitcher. Says Eckersley, "One of the things I learned about in rehab was the potency of endorphins, those proteins in the brain. Some people drink to release them. Now I exercise. Besides, when you're 37, if you don't work out all the time, you're gone."
His off-season conditioning begins immediately after the end of the season at various gyms and fitness centers near the house he shares with his wife, Nancy, and their two-year-old son, Jake, in Sudbury, Mass. During the season, while most of his teammates are shagging flies or taking BP, the Eck is running his daily four miles. During home stands his route runs from the Oakland Coliseum to the Jiffy Lube on Hegenberger Road and back. Every once in a while a passing motorist will ask him for an autograph or maybe even drop a Gibson on him. But that doesn't deter Eckersley.
His pregame routine is part superstition, part why-change-what-works. Before every game the A's play, he has a turkey sandwich on white with mustard. Why mustard?
"Mayonnaise is fattening," he explains, "and I don't want to throw a fat pitch. I want to put mustard on the ball."
When the game starts, he stays put at his locker. ("It's kind of fun saying goodbye to the guys at that point.") But as the game moves along—and Eckersley watches almost every pitch on TV—he gets increasingly nervous. Around the fourth inning he puts heat packs on his right shoulder, and about the fifth he gets dressed. He sits in the dugout during the sixth and seventh, and in the top of the eighth he wanders out to the pen. He is almost never called upon before the ninth, and La Russa rarely has him warm up without bringing him into the game. Once he is on the mound, there are the eight warmup pitches, always in the same sequence: two fastballs, two sliders, fastball, slider, fastball, slider.