March 12, 2007
By Joe Strauss
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
JUPITER, FLA. -- As someone whose career literally crash landed on a game-winning grand slam four summers ago, Tagg Bozied need not be told about the risks of taking anything for granted.
A nonroster first baseman likely ticketed for Class AAA Memphis, Bozied singled once in two at-bats Sunday against the Atlanta Braves, extending his team-high hitting streak to six games. It's enough to earn a once-forgotten player a longer look.
Bozied, nonroster outfielder Miguel Negron and Skip Schumaker are the only players to have appeared in every Grapefruit League game. Bozied is on a seven-for-10 tear.
Said manager Tony La Russa, "I don't see him as a hitter; I see him as a player."
For Bozied, that is no small thing coming off a three-year career detour.
"I just came here looking to play ball," said Bozied after lifting his spring average to .400. "I'm really looking forward to feeling good and proving that I'm healthy and I'm ready to play."
Bozied, 27, was once rated a gifted enough hitter to be the second pick of the second round in the 2000 first-year player draft. (He declined to sign and was drafted in the third round after his senior season at the University of San Francisco in 2001.) Bozied appeared on track for a September promotion in 2004 after a breakout first half with Class AAA Portland, the San Diego Padres' top affiliate.
Bozied had hit 15 home runs and driven in 54 runs -- including 10 in June -- in his first 56 games.
Then everything changed on July 19, 2004, after Bozied hit his 16th home run, a game-winning grand slam against Tacoma.
As he neared home plate, Bozied prepared to leap onto the plate, where teammates waited to mob him. As he braced to lift himself, his left patellar tendon snapped. "I didn't feel any pain. It was like somebody took a bat and swung through my knee. I went into shock," he recalled Sunday.
When Bozied glanced at his devastated left leg, he saw obvious damage. His kneecap had floated to his left thigh. His leg bone jutted out sickeningly.
"At that moment, I thought my career was over. I was done," he said.
An ambulance took Bozied from the field. He immediately underwent surgery that left a nearly foot-long scar over his knee.
Bozied returned to play 26 games in 2005. The Padres released him at the end of spring training last season. Desperate to land somewhere, he signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets and became a spare outfielder at Class AAA Norfolk. Veteran major leaguers Michael Tucker and Jose Offerman were among the outfielders on the team. He received 160 at-bats.
The Cardinals moved to sign him quickly as a minor league free agent.
"Coming in here, it's pretty obvious they want players. I don't see anyone around who's just a bopper. It's about playing the game right. I appreciate that. It motivates me to know this organization is looking for that," Bozied said.
Bozied played in the outfield exclusively last season but projects as a first baseman with his new club. The organization is full of outfielders at Memphis as well as St. Louis.
"My focus is to stay healthy and get 400 or 500 at-bats to show what I can do," said the righthanded batter, who went from walk-on to three-time college All-America at San Francisco. "I haven't been healthy the last few years to show what I can do. When I've been healthy, I've been able to produce. I'm healthy now."
Even his part-time status with Norfolk has helped him as a spot player this spring.
"I never really got comfortable with it with San Diego," said Bozied, who has yet to receive a major league at-bat in six professional seasons. "But last year I knew what my role was. I got comfortable with it. It's huge to know how to do that."