If Arthur Rhodes gets to pitch in his first All-Star Game Tuesday, he will throw with the same wisdom and strength that has kept him in the big leagues since 1991 and has finally made him an All-Star at 40. And he will perform the ritual that has kept him going for the past two years: writing "J.R.,'' his late son's initials, in the dirt on the back of the mound.
The All-Star rookie, who is having one of his finest seasons (perhaps second only to 2001, when he was 8-0 with a 1.72 ERA for the Mariners), never has wanted to speak much about Jordan, even to his teammates. But lately, he said, he figured it was going to come out anyway. Besides, it was Jordan who got him through rehab from Tommy John surgery.
"I'm still playing," Rhodes said, "because of him."
"I put a lot of years in this game to get to that All-Star Game and this year, I made it," said the lefthanded relief pitcher who entered last night with a 3-2 record and 1.06 earned run average. "I'm going to keep all the stuff from the All-Star Game, like the suitcase tag, the envelope and everything else I can get my hands on."
When he was asked the secret of his longevity, he cited his workout regimen and his pitching knowledge (he doesn't throw as hard as he used to, but he keeps the ball down, changes speeds and consistently throws his first pitch for strikes). Plus, he has inspiration. His mom and his 16-year-old daughter, Jade, will go with him to Anaheim, and so will the memory of his favorite little guy.
"I know he would have liked to have been at the All-Star Game, like the rest of the little kids, running around, having fun," Rhodes said. "He'll be there with me and he'll be watching me pitch."