New start for Orioles hurler

TIM BAINES -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Tony Saunders cringes as he remembers the snap, then the pain that shot through his arm. Not just once, but twice.

Highlight-reel material. The arm nearly snapping in half. There for all to see as it played over and over on all the TV sports shows.

The lefthanded pitcher broke the humerus bone in his left arm on May 26, 1999 while throwing a full-count fastball to Texas Rangers slugger Juan Gonzalez.

"It's hard to explain, but it was the worst pain I'd ever been in," says Saunders.

Fifteen months later, trying to bounce back, he broke the same arm during a minor-league game. Two days later, he quit baseball. For good, or so he thought.

"There was a feeling of helplessness, but the second time I was able to control myself a little better," says Saunders. "The first thing that weighs on you, though, is that your career is over. It didn't end where someone told me I wasn't good enough. It ended on a very bad injury."

Fast forward to three months ago -- December. Saunders was resigned to his post-baseball life. He had become a financial adviser in Tampa and was thrilled to be able to spend more time at home with his wife Joyce and children Samantha, 7, and Anthony, 4.

His doctor told him the arm had healed. And Saunders got the itch again -- the desire to play baseball.

DIDN'T HEAL RIGHT

"I'd never thought about it again until I had a follow-up with the doctor," says Saunders. "He was able to come up with the answer why it broke the last time, the fact that it didn't have time to properly heal."

And now, it seems, he has another chance. He sits in the Baltimore Orioles clubhouse, his No. 46 on the nameplate above his locker stall. Four tattoos appear as he removes his T-shirt. There's a drawing of each of his children, his wife's name and a hand gripping a baseball with the words "My World."

While he knows his season could begin at Double-A Bowie, with perhaps some time in Ottawa with the Lynx, he talks about getting back to the majors, this time as a relief pitcher. It's a long road back. But he's willing to work hard to make it happen.

"I was 25 when I hurt my arm," he says. "That's the most frustrating part. I was at the point in my career where I was understanding what it takes to be a big-league player. As long as I'm healthy, I know I can pitch at the big-league level. I can get guys out.

'HAVE TO LISTEN'

"The way I left it was my arm couldn't handle any stress. When the doctor tells you that you can't do it, you have to listen.

"But when I was told I was okay, I got the itch again, the desire to play that I hadn't had in four years.

"Once you get a taste of (the majors), that feeling never goes away. I'm 30 years old, I'm still young."

While he once heaved the baseball at speeds exceeding 90 mph, his fastball was topping out in the low 80s following his first injury. It's in the mid 80s now.

"I was a different pitcher," says Saunders. "It was all or none. I'm trying to focus on location and movement rather than try to throw it 100 mph past everyone."

And as much as his return to baseball means to him, he knows there will be days when he will miss spending so much time with his kids.

"It's going to be hard. My wife wishes I could do it, but still be at home," he said. "I've been around them for four years, doing my thing and being home every night.

"The throwing and rehab ... that's the easy part. Missing my family ... that's going to be hard."

But Saunders knows what hard is. Having your bread and butter, your pitching arm, nearly fall off can prepare you for those kinds of things.


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