Jason Repko doesn’t know how many days are left in his pro baseball career.
At some point between 2013 and now, that total went from zero to unknown. When Repko signed with the York Revolution for the first time in 2013, he played just 24 games before deciding to call it quits. At the time, he was 32 and pretty much all of his life had been dedicated to baseball. He was a standout player at Hanford High School in Richland, Washington, where he eventually became the 37th overall pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1999 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
Over the next 14 years, Repko spent time at every level of baseball you can imagine, including playing more than two seasons worth of games in the majors. So, when he got to York in 2013, it seemed like a good pro career was coming to a close. He realized that. So, at 32, the outfielder retired from the game.
If it was up to him, Repko would've stayed away for good. However, a convincing voice wanted to see him give it one more crack.
"I was just ready to turn the page and try to move on with the family life," Repko said Monday during the first day of Revs' spring training. "After about a year, my son asked me if I'd come back and play and it sparked a little fire in my heart to play the game."
Three seasons later, that fire still burns.
Making it to the big leagues: From the moment Repko was drafted in 1999, he began a slow, arduous climb through the many ranks of affiliated baseball.
He was immediately assigned to the Great Falls Dodgers in the Pioneer Rookie League. By 2002, he navigated all the way up to high-A ball and by 2004, was on the cusp of cracking the Dodgers big league roster, bouncing back and forth between the AA and AAA clubs. Finally, early in 2005, he got his chance, getting called up to Los Angeles after spending just nine games at the AAA level to begin the year. He spent the remainder of the season with the Dodgers.
Over the next few years, Repko continued that same up-and-down pattern between Los Angeles and the AAA Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League. By the time the 2009 season came to a close, he appeared in 230 big league games, hitting 11 homers and driving in 47 runs.
Following his release from the Dodgers in March of 2010, Repko signed a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins. He eventually wound up appearing in 125 big league games over the next two years with the Twins, hitting five homers and driving in 20. In 2012, he saw his final action at the major league level, appearing in five games for the Boston Red Sox as a call-up from AAA Pawtucket. He went just 1 for 11 at the plate in those five appearances.
Coming out of retirement: Without a home at the start of the 2013 season, Repko signed with the Revs in the Atlantic League. However, unable to find the same passion that helped him play in 360 MLB games, Repko stepped away from the game, for what he thought was the final time.
Without any intentions of picking up a glove or bat again, Repko lounged his way through the offseason, until his son Tyler, who was 6 at the time, said that he wanted to see his dad play baseball one last time.
"We were sitting on the couch watching a game, and I took 11 months off, not touching a bat, ball, throwing or anything, and he just randomly said: 'Dad I wish you still played,'" Repko said. "'I wish (Repko's daughter) Avery, mom and I were up in the stands eating ice cream watching you play ball.' And I heard that and it kind of lit that fire."
Repko gave himself one week to get back into what he thought was decent playing shape, called up Revs' manager Mark Mason and informed him he wanted to return. Apparently it takes more than a few weeks to prepare for a baseball season. He slowly felt his hamstring start to strain until he finally tore it completely and had to end his season after just 30 games.
Still, it was enough to get him back into the game, so much so that he played last year in the American Associaton for the Sioux Falls Canaries, where he had a productive year, hitting .291 with 13 homers and 39 RBIs in 90 games.
"It's about having fun": During the first day of York's spring training on Monday, fellow outfielder Nick Ferdinand was glued to Repko's hip, digesting everything Repko had to say.
That's pretty much what Repko's career has come to. The chances of him signing with another MLB organization are slim, so he serves as a mentor to the younger players still hoping to get their big league shot. That still doesn't mean, however, that he doesn't have that competitive drive.
"I don't think any player is ever content with where they're at," Repko said. "But, in the same sentence, it's about having fun, being around the guys, winning ballgames, trying to bring a championship here and, for me personally, trying to stay healthy. I want to play all 140 games. That's my goal."
As long as the fire continues to burn for Repko, it sure beats sitting on the couch watching the game.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org