Any other manager likely would've sent Travis Garcia packing last month.
In his first 41 games through June 23, Garcia was hitting just .208 in 154 plate appearances for the York Revolution. To most baseball men, that likely would've been enough to know if a player could cut it or not.
But the relationship between Garcia and Revs' manager Mark Mason, who players refer to as 'Mase,' goes back a ways. Nine years to be exact.
"That's why I owe Mase so much credit for sticking with me," Garcia said earlier this month.
In his second year as the York skipper, Mason led the Revs to the first-half Atlantic League Freedom Division title. He did so in a few ways. There's the no-brainer decisions, such as getting top-of-the-line talent in outfielder Justin Greene or bringing back an ace pitcher such as Chris Cody. There's the finagling Mason did to acquire shortstop Wilson Valdez and outfielder Sean Smith, who are two of the top base stealers in the league. And then there are the chances Mason has taken on some other guys. Such as starting pitcher Alain Quijano, a veteran with no affiliated experience who had never pitched in the Atlantic League before this season. Or Garcia, a 32-year-old who missed all of last season and who is three years removed from last batting plus-.
Garcia, York's third baseman most of this season, and Mason became close in the Frontier League, when Garcia played for Mason in the Frontier League in 2005, 2007 and 2008. And Mason has watched Garcia on the other side in recent years as one of the better hitters with the Atlantic League's Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.
Shortly after manager Patrick Osborn left the Blue Crabs in the offseason to take a minor league coaching gig in the New York Yankees' organization, Mason gave Garcia a ring.
"I played with Mase for three years (in the Frontier League)," Garcia said. "(Revs' third base coach Enohel) Polanco is like a family member. When Mase called me I told him 'let me see how I feel when I start throwing again. If I do play again, I'm not gonna play for anybody except you guys.'"
Nagging injuries limited Garcia to 39 games with the Blue Crabs in 2012. He ultimately decided on Tommy John surgery in December of 2012.
"I tried to come back at the All-Star break last year. I pushed it. And I probably shouldn't have," Garcia said. "My goal was to be back at the All-Star break with the Blue Crabs. I was rehabbing at home. It didn't work out. I had some problems with inflammation. I had to shut it down."
Garcia began throwing again in January.
"I threw for about two or three weeks with no swelling or inflammation or pain," he said. "I was good from there."
So Garcia called back Mason and told him he was coming to York for the 2014 season. When he returned to the field in April, however, Garcia was still a bit cautious to go all out for fear he might injure something again.
"It's like I was 100 percent healthy, but you have to get past the fact you're not gonna hurt anymore," he said. "Because I played with it for two years in pain. So it's something I had to gain the trust back to let it go. To throw the ball hard. It's one of those things mentally I had to get over that last hump."
While his defense is a work in progress — Garcia's 17 errors are the second-most in the league — he has finally returned to form at the plate. In his last 19 games, Garcia is 25-for-66 (.379) with four homers, seven doubles, one triple, 15 RBIs and 10 runs scored. As a result, he's pumped up his season average up from .208 to .259.
Mason's patience to stick with Garcia has paid off.
"It's hard coming back from injury like that. I needed a lot of at-bats to see where I stood with my arm," Garcia said. "I think after I did get them, after the slow start I had I lost a lot of confidence. And it just gets to the point where you're just over being a terrible ballplayer. And you just go out there and say 'what the hell? Lets go. Lets play your game.'"
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.