Walk, walk, pop up to the first baseman, three run bomb into McCovey Cove, that is how Ray Black’s big league career began in his debut Sunday. For those who think it is a sign of things to come, or that it will be tough to bounce back from that, you are dead wrong. This is a guy that has long battled injuries, undergoing Tommy John Surgery his senior year of high school and worked his way through a rough start to his college career where his ERA was over 17.00 in his first year at Pitt.
He eventually improved enough to be selected in the seventh round by the San Francisco Giants. He did not pitch that summer, first pitching in a Giants uniform in Fall Instructs with an eye on officially starting his pro career the following Spring. That Spring Training, Black felt discomfort in his shoulder, was rested, tried to come back multiple times but wound up having to undergo surgery for a torn labrum.
34 months after being drafted he finally got the chance to make his pro debut and, to much disbelief considering he had been told by a doctor he only had a 7% chance of getting to the form he was before the injury, he touched triple digits for the first time in just his second pro outing. He has since been clocked up to 103 with a wipeout slider, although injuries have been part of his story every year of his career.
I have had many opportunities to speak with Black over the years, during Spring Trainings, the Arizona Fall League, and touching base from time to time, and he has always had a positive outlook on things.
He once told me “as bad as the injuries have been, it has given me a new perspective on the game. Guys will tell me the minor leagues are a grind and the bus trips are a grind and I say NO, this is NOT a grind. The grind is sitting in a hotel room for two years in Arizona when it is 120 degrees not being able to play baseball.”
Time will tell if Black is in the big leagues for good or if he will have to “grind” through more bus trips in the future, but don’t think a bad first outing will dampen his spirits and drive. At the end of the day, he has more perspective than most in baseball, oh, and a fastball that puts up numbers near the top of an FM dial.