Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Daniel Bard following God's plan in returning to MLB seven years after last appearance

Daniel Bard last appeared in an MLB game in 2013. But on Friday, the Colorado Rockies announced that the 35-year-old pitcher had made their opening day roster — yes, seven years after he last pitched in the majors.

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He’ll join a team in dire need of relievers. But whether he makes one appearance for the Rockies or catapults into a starring role, making the roster is one of the more improbable stories MLB has ever seen.

First drafted by the New York Yankees in the 20th round in 2003 while at Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High School, Bard ultimately went to Boston, who selected Bard in the first round (28th overall) of the 2006 draft out of the University of North Carolina. He made his MLB debut on May 13, 2009, and in 2010 accumulated a 1.93 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 74.2 innings. He pitched ahead of closer Jonathan Papelbon “as one of the best 1-2 bullpen punches in baseball,” wrote The Athletic’s Nick Groke.

By 2012, however, Bard had lost control of his pitches, walking 43 and striking out just 38 in 59.1 innings. He lost his job in 2013, and went on a journey trying to save his career by pitching in Puerto Rico and signing multiple minor-league contracts. He couldn’t regain his control, and retired from baseball in 2017.

When former Red Sox assistant general manager Mike Hazen was hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks as GM, he brought in Bard as a mental skills coach and player mentor. He first worked with young prospects on how to hone their focus and work through performance anxieties, then started working with Arizona’s big-league players in 2019. As he occasionally played catch with the players, his talent became apparent.

“Just by teaching them for two years, by accident, it rubbed off on me and I picked up on some things,” Bard told The Athletic. “I was doing it to help other guys, trying to help them with something I wasn’t able to get help with. And I accidentally ran into it myself.”

He felt arm strength, and he mentally felt better than he had half a dozen years ago, so he entertained the idea of a comeback. He talked with the Diamondbacks, and they mutually agreed he couldn’t pitch for them considering how much he’d worked with their players on personal levels. So he quit his job and organized a tryout for pro scouts.

Within 10 minutes of the tryout ending, the Rockies showed interest.

“They separated themselves by showing genuine interest in me as a person,” Bard told The Athletic. “And there was an excitement that they loved what they saw.”

He signed a minor-league contract in February and immediately joined the team for spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., where the Rockies and Diamondbacks — NL West rivals — actually share a training complex.

“Reports from our scouts were outstanding,” Colorado manager Bud Black told reporters after Bard’s first throwing session. “Our pitching coaches were very excited about the arm action.”

The COVID pandemic halted the comeback, but with his inclusion on the regular-season roster, Bard is officially back in the major leagues. The Rockies’ first summer camp games are Tuesday and Wednesday, with their regular season slated to begin Friday at Texas.

“Fortunately, for some reason, everything has gone better than I could have planned. I’m really thankful for the opportunity here. I’m having a blast,” Bard told MLB.com last week.

Looking back on Bard’s early MLB experience has brought him wisdom for his second MLB stint.

“I realized, yes, baseball is really important, but it’s not everything,” Bard told The Athletic. “It was a powerful perspective-changer.”

That perspective stems from knowing he’s not in control. In 2013, as a 28-year-old with his career in shambles, Bard acknowledged God’s plan.

“I know that in the past, when I’ve felt good, things take care of themselves,” he told ESPN seven years ago. “Just kind of putting trust in my own ability. God has a plan for me, it’s not all in my hands. I’m going to take care of what I can take care of and I’ll end up where I’m supposed to.”

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