Mazone hurling with heavy heart
Pitcher waging stellar bid to shake 'Minors' tag while mother battles for life
PHOENIX -- While Brian Mazone wages a longshot bid for a job on the Dodgers' pitching staff, his mother has been waging a battle for her life.
Theresa Mazone has been hospitalized for two months with a bacterial infection after her immune system shut down due to a complication from decades of prescription arthritis medication. She's spent eight weeks in intensive care, and two weeks ago she had major lung surgery.
"Mentally, it's sad to say, but it takes something like that to realize the important things in life," Mazone said. "What she's dealing with kind of puts what I'm doing in perspective. All of a sudden, I don't put pressure on myself, and that's helped me. My mom is sick, and I'm pitching for her.
"If things progress well, she might come home in a couple more weeks. It's only been in the last week that she could pick up the phone to talk to me. I told Joe [manager Torre] when I got here what was going on, just in case I had to go home to see her. What's keeping me going is knowing that my dad and sister are there for her 24/7. They told me the best thing for her and me is to be here. She wants me here, and it's given me added drive to be here and make some noise."
The 32-year-old Mazone has spent 11 years in professional baseball, but not one official day in the Major Leagues. He started all last season for Philadelphia's Triple-A club at Lehigh Valley, one of the stops on a resume that includes five seasons of Independent League ball, one in Korea and this past winter playing in Mexico. He missed the 2001 season entirely after major shoulder surgery.
Mazone was one of seven non-roster left-handers the Dodgers brought into camp in what amounted to a cattle call with the hope that maybe one or two would stick. Considering his age and professional pedigree, Mazone might have been the least likely candidate.
Yet, in seven Spring appearances, Mazone hasn't allowed a run, and he still has a locker in the Major League clubhouse.
"He looks pretty calm," Torre said. "He hasn't really seemed like he's pressing. He's pitched well. With everybody else we've talked about, he just gets people out."
Nothing wrong with that. Undrafted out of the University of San Diego in 1998, Mazone signed with Atlanta, but he was released and became a fixture on the Indy circuit, dominating for Joliet in 2002 with a 15-3 mark and 2.51 ERA. In '03, he spent half a season in the Milwaukee organization and then went back to Indy ball. Mazone said the Giants, "Got me back on the radar" when they signed him in '04.
"I was so excited just to get out of Indy ball," Mazone said.
Married with two children, Mazone has worked in the offseason with his father building swimming pools to help make ends meet. In Independent ball, Mazone's annual salary of $15,000 amounted to one-third of what Manny Ramirez makes each at-bat.
"I'd get up at 6, throw, then go to work," Mazone said. "It wasn't easy."
He knows he now has the dreaded tag of "career Minor Leaguer."
"That's a tough thing to shake," Mazone said. "I was getting called up by the Phillies in 2006 to make a start [replacing Randy Wolf], and the game got rained out and they sent me back down without activating me. Randy came up to me here and apologized. Not that he did anything wrong, he just felt bad.
"But I'm still hanging around. The older I get, the harder I throw. I'm figuring things out. I pick guys' brains and I'm still learning. I've always felt, sooner or later, somebody would give me a fair shot."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.