Why should anyone believe him now?
Scott Spiezio has said all the right things before, appeared more than contrite, and that didn’t turn out so great.
The former Angels hero was released by two major league teams in a whirlwind 44 days last year, the price of ugly public incidents. He had wrecked his car in Newport Beach after a drinking binge and later punched a friend who tried to help him.
Now the 12-year major league veteran is with the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League, a baseball netherworld rife with “Thirsty Thursday” promotions and overzealous stadium announcers.
It is here, the 36-year-old Spiezio hopes, that over the next month he can show major league teams that he has changed -- by what he does, not what he says.
“Instead of me saying, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’ ” Spiezio said, “I can say, ‘This is what I did.’ ”
The utility player homered in his first game last week but was hitting only .188 through Wednesday. Still, he knows teams will be more interested in how he behaves off the field.
After years of pushing away friends and family members who tried to help him overcome his drug and alcohol problems, Spiezio said he has finally embraced a support network capable of nurturing him back to the major leagues.
There’s his wife, Jennifer, who will accompany her husband on the team bus to outposts such as Chico, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., in an attempt to help him resist the urge to drink.
There’s Pastor Jeff Pries from Mariners Church in Irvine, a former first-round pick of the New York Yankees whose sermons and batting practice arm are both lively.
And there’s Flyers Manager Phil Nevin, a no-nonsense mentor who won’t stand for distractions as his team chases a second consecutive league title.
“He knows that one slip-up here -- I’m not going to allow anything because we have a good thing going,” Nevin said.
Before a recent Flyers game against the Chico Outlaws, Spiezio resembled the happy-go-lucky player he was with the Angels, bouncing around behind the batting cage with a smile affixed to his face.
“I don’t even know how to describe the difference in his well-being, just being able to play baseball and have the camaraderie with the men down there in the locker room,” Jennifer Spiezio said. “It’s been really good.”
This comeback attempt began at the spot of Spiezio’s greatest triumph: Angel Stadium. The first baseman, whose three-run homer in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series catapulted the Angels to their only title, had contacted Tim Mead, the club’s vice president of communications.
Mead invited Spiezio to batting practice in Anaheim, and the baseball executive watched Spiezio become transfixed.
“He looked at me and it was almost like he sensed something,” Spiezio said. “He goes, ‘Is it all out of your system?’ And I go, ‘I don’t think so.’ ”
So Mead put Spiezio in touch with Flyers owner Alan Mintz, who invited Spiezio to a home game at Fullerton’s Goodwin Field. Spiezio chatted with Nevin and later went through a series of workouts.
Nevin acknowledged he was initially hesitant to give Spiezio another chance. Spiezio, who said he never saw a drug in his life until he was 33 and once thought anxiety and depression were “made up,” started his downward spiral with the Seattle Mariners in 2004 after signing a three-year, $9.15-million contract.
A back injury, a messy divorce and ensuing custody issues -- the couple’s three children stayed with their mother -- resulted in a season in which Spiezio hit .215 and embarked on the first of a series of what he called “my little detours.”
Things took a turn for the better in 2006 when he helped St. Louis win the World Series. Yet the next year, still struggling with his addictions and the death of teammate Josh Hancock, Spiezio started drinking before games.
“The only way I could play was to drink,” Spiezio said. “I wasn’t asking for help with my emotional issues because I didn’t know how to handle them. So the only way to play would be to try to be numb.”
Spiezio spent 36 days in an outpatient treatment program. But he said he didn’t take it seriously and focused only on what it would take to get back to baseball.
Spiezio was back with the Cardinals in spring training last year when Orange County Superior Court issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with his December 2007 car accident. According to the police report, Spiezio was driving at speeds of up to 100 mph when he cut across lanes, weaved through oncoming traffic and went over a curb before crashing into a fence.
After fleeing on foot, Spiezio went to a friend’s condominium, where he became sick and then, in a drunken rage, punched the friend. The Cardinals released him when they learned of the charges.
Spiezio faced six misdemeanor charges and eventually received three years’ probation as part of a plea bargain. It wasn’t long, though, before he convinced Atlanta Braves General Manager Frank Wren that he was ready for another chance.
He wasn’t. The Braves released him two weeks later when he showed up late to a minor league game. Spiezio was so depressed that he spent the next three months holed up at his rural home in Morris, Ill., ignoring the pleas of friends and family who wanted to help.
That would never happen now, Spiezio insists. He has instructed Jennifer, to whom he’s been married for almost four years, to let his father and pastors know when she senses the slightest change in his behavior. And so Ed Spiezio, himself an ex-major leaguer, recently received a call from his daughter-in-law because she noticed her husband had become more quick-tempered than normal.
Will it be enough?
“If a guy has shown he’s moved on, this game is pretty forgiving if your talent level is still there,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Off-the-field things always weigh into decisions, in some organizations more than others, but it’s not something that can’t be overcome.”
Spiezio knows if he doesn’t correct his ways now, baseball executives won’t care what he does with the rest of his life.
“I know it will be my last shot and I want to be a comeback story, a role model for myself and my family and kids around the world,” Spiezio said. “I know what I was before my little two-, three-year detour -- I was that kind of role-model player on and off the field. I want to get back to that.”
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Spiezio’s career statistics
*--* Year Team G AB R H HR RBI AVG 1996 Oakland 9 29 6 9 2 8 310 1997 Oakland 147 538 58 131 14 65 243 1998 Oakland 114 406 54 105 9 50 259 1999 Oakland 89 247 31 60 8 33 243 2000 Angels 123 297 47 72 17 49 242 2001 Angels 139 457 57 124 13 54 271 2002 Angels 153 491 80 140 12 82 285 2003 Angels 158 521 69 138 16 83 265 2004 Seattle 112 367 38 79 10 41 215 2005 Seattle 29 47 2 3 1 1 064 2006 St. Louis 119 276 44 75 13 52 272 2007 St. Louis 81 223 31 60 4 31 269 Career 1,273 3,899 517 996 119 549 255 *--*