- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"The stakes for Kevin were high; consequently, so was the pressure he was experiencing," Bright says. "Spring training was nearly half over and he had reached a point where he could barely go to the ball park. He had exhausted all his resources."
Bright ran Saucier through a kind of basic stress-survival course. She taught him the value of "personal quiet time," provided him with specific exercises for "unwinding effectively," for isolating and developing the elements that enhanced his performance and expunging those that did not. "Too often," says Bright, "athletes with natural ability are not aware of what it is they do that makes them play well, and when they get off track, they don't know what to look for. Also, few realize how much their private lives can affect their public performance. Kevin? I suggest that there were probably several factors that contributed to his decline. Stress at home. The two trades. The shock of that first wild pitch. The demotion to the minor leagues. And then, of course, the everyday pressure that baseball, or any sport, triggers."
The therapy helped, Saucier says, "but deep down inside I knew something was still very wrong." His first three exhibition outings, in which he gave up a total of two hits and one run in three innings, were largely stress-free. The next time out, however, he was scheduled to work the sixth inning against Minnesota but at the last minute was moved up to the fifth instead, and, as a result, had to cut his customary 25 warmup pitches to seven. Whacko! He gave up five runs and as many hits, including a grand slam home run to Gary Ward.
The next day, Saucier was told that Anderson wanted to see him. "I told Karen that it was either one of two things: One, he was going to apologize for bringing me in with only seven warmup pitches, or two, he was going to release me. But I wasn't kidding myself; I knew I was gone."
Gone he was. "I guess that was just Sparky," Saucier says of his release. "We had our fights. I think he was dead set against me making it. Maybe it was just baseball's way of telling me I didn't belong anymore." Anderson says, "Pitching the way he can, Kevin could've helped us. Pitching the way he was, he couldn't. So we had no choice. Who knows what went wrong? I don't, and I doubt if he does. It's just a damn shame."
Nevertheless, one more team was willing to give Saucier another chance. After what Karen tearfully called "the worst week of our lives," the Atlanta Braves offered him $30,000 to pitch for their Richmond, Va. Triple A team and said they'd give him $100,000 if he moved up to the parent club. Saucier, clinging to the hope that "a change of scenery might help," accepted.
When Saucier joined Richmond at their spring training camp in West Palm Beach, he threw well on the sideline and in intrasquad games. But when called on to pitch in an exhibition game against Columbus, the New York Yankees' Triple A team, he fell apart. It's all a nightmarish blur now, but Saucier remembers giving up maybe five runs, four or five walks and, most terrifyingly, making a horrendous—and, no doubt, record-setting—seven wild pitches.
"It was unbelievable," he says. "I could hear the guys on the Columbus bench laughing, saying how I'd freaked out. They had no idea what I was going through." Finally, a badly shaken Saucier called Richmond Manager Eddie Haas to the mound and said, "Eddie, you got to get me out of here. I just can't handle it anymore." Then Saucier trudged off, and sat down and wept.
"It's funny, but when I was coming up, control was my main thing," says Saucier. "I mean I could really pump that ball in there. I used to get mad when I wasn't out there pitching. And then all of a sudden I didn't want to go out there anymore. I was afraid I was going to kill somebody. I had thrown at hitters before, sure, but I never threw at their heads. The difference was I had my control then, and I knew where I was going to hit them. But now, well, I just had no idea where that ball was going to go, and it scared me so bad I thought I'd crack up."
When the team broke training camp the day after his worst mound disaster ever, Saucier traveled north with it to Richmond, where he met Karen. Ever hopeful, she had driven a U-Haul trailer from Pensacola to Richmond and rented an apartment. "All along," she says, "I wanted Kevin to keep playing. I'd say, 'C'mon, you can do it.' But when I got to Richmond and saw how mentally exhausted and torn up he was, I realized how selfish I'd been. He looked like a basket case. So I told him, 'Kevin, go ahead and do what you want to do and not what others want you to do. I'd much rather have you happy than see you drive yourself crazy trying to throw a little white ball.' "