KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Sitting at his own podium, wedged between two of his Rangers teammates, Joe Nathan already felt he was back at the All-Star Game, the fifth of his career. But if Nathan needed a reminder of what this baseball carnival is all about, he got one during the 45-minute media frenzy Monday.
"Hey Joe," a reporter asked, "when was the last time you saw a UFO and what did it look like?"
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Nathan laughed, unsure if the question was serious or not. It was, so he played along as best he could. "I would assume never," he said, smiling.
But if he's learned anything from his return from Tommy John surgery at age 37, it's never to say never.
In March 2010, when Nathan was diagnosed with the tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, the thought of playing in another All-Star Game was far-fetched. More believable than an alien landing, perhaps, but still a long shot. So he figures to enjoy this.
"They all have a special meaning," he said, "but I think this one just means more because it's coming back from this type of surgery. I think a lot of people said Tommy John, at my age, this might be it. Not that I'm out to prove other people wrong. I more wanted to prove things to myself that I can do it. It's nice to let people know that age doesn't matter."
The Rangers believed in Nathan enough to sign him to a two-year, $14.75-million contract last November, and he's been a solid investment for the two-time defending AL champs. One of eight Rangers All-Stars, he has a 1.73 ERA in 36 first-half appearances, with 45 strikeouts and four walks in 361/3 innings.
"I don't want to say doubt," Nathan said, "but there's always something in the back of your mind asking yourself, will I get back to the same level having the same stuff, throwing as hard?"
Nathan still generates plenty of arm speed to get the nasty movement on his slider, but he also has refined his curveball and improved a changeup that he mixes in occasionally.
As memorable seasons go, it seems only fitting that his comeback has coincided with the amazing run of his alma mater, Stony Brook, which advanced to the College World Series.
"I thought it was awesome," Nathan said. "I felt like a little kid watching them again. A lot of teams go into LSU and look very uncomfortable, but they had fun with it. They didn't let anything bother them."
It's a trait the school's alumni evidently share.