Mike Flannery just returned from a week in Lakeland, Fla., getting ready for his first season in the Atlantic League with the Camden Riversharks.
Although he was standing in front of the home dugout yesterday during media day at sun-drenched Campbell's Field, he is still on cloud nine.
Flannery, 28, a righthander and graduate of Audubon (N.J.) High School, got himself back into the game after a bum throwing shoulder led to surgery and nearly ended his baseball career.
But all it took was a simple phone call recently to David Keller, director of baseball operations for the Riversharks, to get him back where he craved to be.
Flannery will be in the bullpen tonight when the Riversharks host the York Revolution in the season opener.
"Dave was going to call me, but I called him first," said Flannery, who was drafted by the Florida Marlins after one season at Gloucester County College. "I was recovering from an operation I had in August to remove bone spurs, but I'd been feeling great. I went down to throw for him in Washington Township and he said he wanted to get another look at me. So I came to the stadium and threw. It was a real cold, damp day, but he liked what he saw and here I am."
What Keller saw might not have been the velocity or location that helped Flannery rise to Triple A Albuquerque for the Marlins in 2004, but it was very impressive. Enough so to invite Flannery to an open tryout on April 6.
"When I first watched Mike, he hit 88 [mph] on the radar, but he wasn't going all out," Keller said. "Then we brought him to the stadium on that cold day, and without a problem he hit 90. And that's still not where Mike will be. When he gets his stuff going, he'll be around 94."
Before getting the call from the Riversharks, Flannery was working for his uncle's Philadelphia construction company as a laborer. But the itch to get back in the game was too hard to ignore.
"When I started to feel pain in my shoulder a few years ago, I tried to pitch with it, which, looking back, probably wasn't the best thing for me," he said. "But I know the surgery I had wasn't a big surgery. And after throwing some I felt like I could get back to pitching the way I was."
And if that doesn't work out?
"Well, my uncle owns a family business, so I'm pretty sure I'd be able to get a job there," he laughed. "But I'm confident I can get myself back to where I was in 2004. There's no doubt in my mind."
Yesterday the Riversharks signed righthanders Brian Lawrence and Ryan Drese, both of whom were in spring training for major league clubs this spring. General manager Adam Lorber joked yesterday that both of them were on his fantasy baseball team a couple of years ago. Lawrence, 31, and Drese, 32, improve an already formidable pitching staff for manager Joe Ferguson. *