Baseball has its rarities, but the game is also full of repetition.
With so many games throughout every season and such a rich history, there aren’t often surprises.
But Jason Lane is a rarity. The 37-year-old hitter-turned-pitcher is a pleasant surprise for a San Diego Padres organization that could probably use some more of that this year. I had the pleasure of speaking with him a couple weeks ago for my story that will soon be found at Baseball America online, and also in the next issue of the magazine, and he seemed to be as advertised – a genuinely good guy and a hard-working ballplayer. What more can you ask for?
Called up to the big-league club for his first career start in the majors on Monday morning in Atlanta, Lane has 14 minor league seasons under his belt, with parts of seven years in the big leagues already in other roles. He started his professional career as a hitter and both his MLB and MiLB player pages still list him as such. The California native only took the mound for the first time a couple of years ago, and now he’s a full-time hurler who can still contribute the occasional knock out of the lineup.
In Monday’s matchup against the Braves, taking over Ian Kennedy’s rotation spot, he pitched six-plus innings allowing only six hits and a solo home run with no walks, two strikeouts, and the southpaw added a base hit to his day. Not bad, right? He became only the third pitcher since 1914 to do such a thing innings-wise and earned runs-wise at his age. Iconic Padres broadcaster Dick Enberg called it “a stellar performance”, so who am I to argue?
When I talked to the left-hander earlier this month, it was about Southwest University Park and the El Paso Chihuahuas, San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate. Lane appeared to love everything about it, and he seemed to figure that it was helping him make his way back to the major leagues.
“When you get to come to a park or an atmosphere like [this] every day, as a player it’s all you can ask for, especially in the minor leagues,” Lane told me. “There are certain places where the atmosphere is not [like] that, and when you’re in the minor leagues it can become a grind. But when you have a place like this, you want to come here and you want to spend more time at the park.
“The more time you’re here, the better chance you have of getting better and hopefully getting out of here and getting back to the big leagues. It’s a great environment and they’ve done a great job all the way around.”
I absolutely loved my time in El Paso, Texas and if that’s not evident when you read my upcoming story on the experience, then we’ve lost something in translation. But it was great. The park was fantastic, the food was wonderful, the atmosphere in the stadium was incredible, the team was enjoyable to be around, and the staff at Southwest University Park became friends for life. Within just a couple of days.
While I was in El Paso for the weekend, I spoke to Lane on a Saturday afternoon. The field was tarped and batting practice held indoors. He had started Friday night’s game against the Salt Lake Bees and was between the clubhouse, the park’s workout facility and the batting cages all afternoon.
As players readied for the impending matchup, Lane took time out to work with his manager Pat Murphy’s 13-year-old son Kai in the cages. The young two-way player told me afterward that Lane was helping him with both his hitting and his pitching, obviously one of the best guys to do such a thing.
It’s likely that Lane worked with Kai at least in part out of respect for the skipper. Everyone loves Murph, including me after my brief encounter with him. The Chihuahuas manager turned a five-minute interview into a more-than 90-minute chat, sharing his sense of humor, engaging his audience, and becoming a friend within minutes of meeting him. It is for this reason and many, many more, players one step away from the big leagues love to be in El Paso. They love to play for him.
“He’s great,” Lane said. “He has a great feel for what each player needs. He keeps everything loose. He holds people accountable and he’s serious when he needs to be, but he can joke when things need to be lightened up. He has a great feel for that.”
As much as he enjoyed playing for Murphy, Lane also loved the fans in El Paso. I can see why too, because they are passionate, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and pretty fantastic.
“The electricity of the crowd and the intensity of the games have been great,” Lane said. “When you’re out there on the mound, you feel the energy in the park. It’s always fun to come to a place like that.
“It absolutely [changes the mindset] on the field. If you have a place where no one wants to be or guys are getting here late and leaving early, you’re not going to get as much work as you could get done. It definitely has an impact on how players go about their days.”
Lane certainly had a day on Monday with the Padres, so much so that I just had to write about it, and him.
Now it’s seriously time to get back to learning some Japanese.