Humbled Tomko ecstatic to be back with Reds

Humbled Tomko ecstatic to be back with Reds

Humbled Tomko ecstatic to be back with Reds
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When pitcher Brett Tomko returned to the Reds earlier this month, he walked into the Spring Training clubhouse carrying something that the younger version of himself didn't have during his first turn in Cincinnati.

Now 38 and set to turn 39 on April 7, Tomko is overflowing with humility.

"I think that my perspective changed after I got hurt," Tomko said. "Before, you think this is going to last forever. When you get to your late 30s, it's almost over. It's a short lifespan. I've learned to appreciate everything."

In 2009, Tomko's well-traveled career appeared to be coming to a premature end. While pitching for the A's on Sept. 14, 2009 and locking down his 100th career victory -- a 9-0 complete-game shutout of the Rangers -- the right-hander pinched a nerve in his arm and he lost all the feeling down to his hand.

Although he remained with Oakland for 2010, a large chunk of the season was spent rehabilitating. Tomko went back to the low Minors to start pitching in late June, and although he contemplated retirement, his appreciation for the game helped light the fire for the comeback effort.

"When you get hurt and are basically told you'll never pitch again, you realize how great this is," Tomko said. "What a great lifestyle and what fun it is to do it."

On April 24, 2011, Tomko was back in the Major Leagues pitching for the Rangers in a two-inning relief appearance against the Royals.

"I worked really hard to get back," Tomko said. "Getting back to the big leagues last year was probably more exciting than when I first got into the big leagues. I even cried after I came off of the mound after my first inning. It just hit me all of a sudden. I got halfway to the dugout and tears were coming down my face. It was a real emotional year last year."

Tomko was sent back to Triple-A by Texas last May and he finished the season in the Minors. During the offseason, he still had the urge to pitch and looked at a few clubs. He had pitched for general manager Walt Jocketty in St. Louis and pitching coach Bryan Price in Seattle and reached out to see if he could return to Cincinnati.

The Reds offered Tomko a Minor League contract with an invite to big league camp as a non-roster player.

"Getting to be older and coming to the end, I always wanted to come back to Cincinnati," Tomko said. "My whole career, I thought if there was any opportunity to get back here, I would try to do it. When I was younger, I saw a lot of guys recycling back through and I just thought that was cool, coming full circle."

Tomko was drafted by the Reds in the second round in 1995, and he was 29-26 with a 4.35 ERA in 89 games, including 79 starts, for Cincinnati from 1997-99. In February 2000, the club traded him to the Mariners as part of the blockbuster deal for Ken Griffey Jr.

Thus began an odyssey around the league that reads like the back of a rock band tour T-shirt. In 14 seasons, Tomko has pitched for 10 different clubs -- Seattle, San Diego (twice), St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Kansas City, New York (Yankees), Oakland and Texas.

"He's made a good living doing it," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of Tomko's career. "He hasn't been in one place a long time. The hard part sometimes is just getting a job."

Tomko has found very little still the same since he left Cincinnati. The Reds have since changed ballparks, Spring Training sites and states and uniforms. And obviously, there has been plenty of player and manager turnover.

"Everything is different, except for the clubhouse guys and staff," Tomko noted. "I think I'm the only player here's that's been in all three of their last Spring Training places -- Plant City, Sarasota and here. I guess it's a claim to fame."

The Reds are poised to have a solid rotation and bullpen, with few openings this spring for extra pitchers. Tomko, who missed Wednesday's workout with back spasms that are considered minor, knows the odds could be long.

"I told them I was willing to do whatever they wanted to do," Tomko said. "I will come in and try to make the team and if not, I'd go to Triple-A. It'd be a good insurance policy for them if something happens."

Once upon a time, that type of thinking wasn't fathomable for Tomko. But with wisdom, he's realized something many players haven't -- a bad day at the ballpark, at any level -- is often better than a good day in many other occupations.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.