Chad Cordero Interview: Closing In On A Major League Comeback
Thursday March 22nd, 2012
(Photo courtesy of Scott Ableman- click here for link to Scott’s photographs)
MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen: When you are discussing the terms “closer” and “saves”, this name will always come in conversation at some point. One of the top closers in baseball for several years, this man really needs no introduction. But he will get one anyways…because he is that damn good. As far as superstar closers go, Chad Cordero has been there. Between 2004-2007, Chad was one of the game’s elite. 2005 was his shining moment, as Chad led the league with 47 saves in Washington- the first year of the Nationals. Consistent and a bulldog on the mound. Injuries and a personal tragedy all made the last few years very difficult for Chad and his family. But like on the mound, Chad Cordero in life is not one to give up. He battles on.
I had the honor of speaking with Chad recently as the MLB season began to approach. Where did we speak? Amazingly enough, while Chad was getting a tattoo. Apparently talking baseball helped numb the pain. If nothing else, it made for an interesting interview experience! We got to discuss many topics, centering around baseball and life in general.
Despite his stardom and popularity, Chad Cordero remains very grounded and focused. After taking the time to heal his body and family, Chad is back with renewed energy and confidence. Despite reports last year of his retirement from the game, I am happy to report that Chad Cordero is far from finished. He is working hard and training for his MLB comeback in 2013.
We covered many topics during our conversation. From closing in College, playing in Montreal and Washington, reaching major league success, and recovering from the loss of his daughter to SIDS, Chad was very candid in this interview. I even discovered the secret behind the straight-brim hat! Today on MLB reports, we feature one of our favorite closers of all-time – on the comeback trail with the man they called “The Chief” – Chad Cordero:
Welcome to MLB reports Chad. It is a pleasure to be speaking with you. First question to get the clarification for the readers: did you formally retire from baseball last year- or is your career just on hold?
Thanks for having me. I haven’t officially retired, I’m just taking time off to be with my family. When I made the announcement I was retiring I wasn’t thinking clearly. I should have just said I was stepping away from the game for a bit. My wife and I had just lost our youngest daughter, Tehya, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome six months earlier. My heart wasn’t into baseball. I needed to be home with my wife and oldest daughter. It was hard enough to have to deal with Tehya passing away but to have to be away from my family made it much worse. I missed them. I had to be away from them for eight days at a time, every other week. I wasn’t ready for that. I would find myself crying in the bathroom stalls of the clubhouse and on bus trips. I tried to not let my teammates see but a couple of them saw me crying on a bus ride from Fresno to Sacramento. All of this made me realize that I needed to be with my family every day and the only way to do that would be to stop playing for the rest of the year. It was a hard decision to make but my family is my priority. Knowing that I would be able to see my wife and Riley every day made me feel at peace with my decision.
Let’s reflect back to the early days. In 2003 you were selected in the 1st round by the Expos. As a native Californian, were you surprised to go to Montreal?
I would say I was more shocked than surprised to go to Montreal. The night before the draft, an Expos scout called me and wanted to meet with me. We never ended up meeting because he got into town too late. But I thought that was kind of weird. That was the first time I had talked to the Expos. The morning of the draft, the scout from the night before called me at like 7:30a.m. and told me that I’d be hearing from them real soon. I had no idea what that even meant until I was at practice getting ready for the super regional. One of their scouts was sitting in the stands at our practice holding an Expos hat. I remember seeing him sitting there and thinking that one of my teammates had been taken in the first couple rounds. I never thought it was me. The whole time, I was thinking I would be a third or fourth rounder. After sitting there for a while, my coach slowly walked towards me and told me that the scout was there to talk to me. I had been drafted in the first round! It just seemed to happen so fast. I really didn’t know anything about the city except for the fact that they spoke mostly French. I had never even been to Canada before. The first time I went to Montreal was the homestand after I got called up. I just remember going to the Olympic Stadium and being in awe of everything. I still couldn’t believe I had made it to the big leagues.
What was the process like for you when the Expos moved to Washington? How did you feel about it at the time?
The whole relocation process was very exciting. I had never been a part of anything like it before. I just remember being really nervous because I had to get use to a whole new city. I had just spent the last year playing in Montreal and I felt really comfortable there. Montreal was one of the best cities in baseball to visit. For some reason it always made me feel like I was living in Europe. Now I had figure out where the stadium was in DC, where I would live and how I would get around there. Once I got over being nervous, I started to get real excited. I remember checking the website every day to see if they had announced our new team name and the colors. I felt like a little kid waiting for his christmas present. I wanted to see the new logo and new uniforms. I couldn’t wait. I still find myself looking at all the team websites to see if anyone has changed their uniforms or logos. I love that kind of stuff.
Have you been back to Montreal since baseball departed the city? When baseball expands again- should Montreal get another team?
Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to go back to Montreal. A couple of the guys wanted to go back there during the All Star break in 2005… but I don’t think that I ever did. That would have been fun. The city was great. I enjoyed living there for the short time I did. I think a lot of people were sad knowing they wouldn’t be able to play there anymore. Hopefully one day baseball can return there. If the city is able to build a stadium downtown, then I think they could be very successful. The fans that did go to the games were die-hard fans. They knew their baseball and loved the game. They were very passionate about the Expos. It’s just too bad we weren’t able to draw more people. I think a lot of the fans just thought Olympic Stadium was too far out-of-the-way and it needed a lot of work. I remember a couple of times during batting practice seeing a huge puddle of water in right field and thinking that was weird. Then I would look up…and there would be a huge leak in the roof!
We talked about your straight brim hat. One of your classic trademarks. How was the look born Chad? (please tell us your secret!)
(Laughing Hard) I’ve had so many people ask me how I get it so straight. I’ve had people ask if I ironed it or put something heavy on it so that I could get it straight. The truth is that’s just how the hats come out of the box. I don’t need to do anything. I just let people think I do something to it. I started wearing it like that at Cal State Fullerton. The reason I started doing it was because that’s how all the guys on the team wore it! I had never seen someone wear a hat like that before. I instantly fell in love with that look so I tried it out and I’ve worn it like that ever since. The only thing I did differently from my teammates was I pulled it down over my eyebrows. My eyebrows are kind of bushy, so I wanted to hide them because otherwise it would look funny having my hat above my eyebrows. If I bent the bill I wouldn’t be able to see. It also made me look a little more intimidating. Since I was closing, I had to find a way to look intimidating and luckily the flat bill did that.
You were a closer for Cal State and became a college closer who starred in the major leagues. You were one of the first, if not the first college groomed closers. Was that an advantage in your opinion to prepare you for your future role- rather than start and progress to closing?
For sure, being a closer in college for three years really helped me. I think it helped me move up fast. Most guys don’t end up closing until maybe their third or fourth year in pro ball and luckily for me, I had done that since my second month in college as a freshman. I understood how to deal with the pressure of pitching in the ninth inning. It wasn’t easy though.
Walk us through your 2005 campaign. That was pretty special. All-star appearance, led the league in saves, top closer and finishing 5th in CY Young voting.
That ’05 year was awesome! Everything seemed to come together that year. It was crazy since that was our first year in Washington. Everything about that year was special. We lead the NL East at the All-Star break. I don’t think anyone was expecting that. Unfortunately we came back down to earth in the second half.
I would never have been able to have the year I had if my teammates hadn’t done so well. They are the ones who allowed me to have so many opportunities. Without them, I would never have made the All- Star team. I owe it all to my teammates and Frank Robinson. Frank is one who gave me the chance to close. He had the confidence to put a 22-year old kid in the closer’s role. He taught me so much that year. He just always told me to never back down to anyone. So I took that advice and ran with it that year. I mean who knows if I would have had the same year if Frank hadn’t had trust in me that he did. Being named to the All-Star team was great as well. I couldn’t believe it when Frank called a team meeting and said that myself and Livan had been selected. I remember him telling me to go call my parents because he knew how close I am with them. I was able to take them to Detroit with me for the game and it felt really good to my have my family with me to share in the experience. I know my dad loved it because he got to meet Derrick Lee. We used to watch him when he was playing for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. That was great. I just couldn’t believe I was in the same locker room with John Smoltz and Billy Wagner. These were guys I grew up watching… and now I was sitting right next to them. My dream had come true. (big smile)
Having never played in a MLB playoff game- how much does that play on your mind?
I was always thinking about that. I find myself thinking about what if we had won just 5 more games ’05 if we would have made the playoffs. Every year I thought we had a chance to go to the playoffs but it just never happened. That’s the one thing I wish I was able to do. So hopefully next year when attempt my comeback, I can make it back to the big leagues and be on a playoff team. That would be great. It would have been nice to make it the playoffs with Washington
Have you been back to Washington recently? Any connection with the Nationals- fans there love you and will always consider you a Nat for life!
Nope, just haven’t had time to get back there but this summer we will be heading there for the first time since I got hurt. I’m going to be doing a week-long camp out there. My wife and I always talk about going back but we just haven’t been able to before this year. We loved DC. We even talked about moving back there because that’s how much we loved the city and people. The fans treated us so well. I try to keep in touch with the fans both through Facebook and twitter. Facebook is the reason I’m able to do the camp. The person in charge messaged me through it one day and asked if I wanted to help out. So I immediately said yes. I can’t wait. I’m still new to twitter so how about you help get me some followers? (Editor’s Note: Fans get to @ChadCordero32 – quickly!) I wish Twitter was around when I was playing in Washington because it would have allowed me to get to know the fans better. I think fans are important to the game. That’s why I tried to make sure I made time to sign autographs whenever possible before a game. I remember in ’05 I use to go onto the field 30 minutes before each game so I could talk to fans and sign for them. Without them- there wouldn’t be a game. (Editor’s Note: How refreshing is that fans?)
How is your health today? Since walking away from the game, what has your life been like?
It’s great! Physically I haven’t felt this good since my ’05 year and mentally I’m refreshed. I’ve lost about 30 lbs since my last year in DC. I think being able to spend time with my family has helped a lot. Before coming home, I was mentally exhausted. I was drained. Losing Tehya is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. I had to be strong for both my wife and Riley and it took a lot out of me. I wasn’t mentally healthy. Looking back, I should have taken all of last year off to be with my family but I wanted to try to make Tehya proud of me so I tried playing. I had thought about staying home but my and wife thought I should give it a try. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I mean, spring training started two months after she passed away. It was hard being in Florida. When we left, her headstone hadn’t even been put in the ground and that was hard to deal with. I wasn’t able to go visit her whenever I wanted to. Once we left for spring training, I had to wait six months to be able to do that. I couldn’t handle it. I took it really hard. So by the time I was playing independent ball, I was done. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had lost the passion for the game and I wasn’t feeling good.
So that’s when I decided that in order for me get better, I had to go home to be with Jamie and Riley. It’s also around this time we found out Jamie was pregnant with Cooper. Once we got this news I knew I had to be home. I told myself that I didn’t want miss a day of this pregnancy or day of Coopers first year. Cooper has been great. He’s keeping me up all night but it’s ok. Now that I’m home I feel great. I’m able to go and spend time with Tehya whenever I want to and now I get to wake up and see my family every day without worrying about having to go on the road in eight days. I feel refreshed and I’m ready to play baseball again.
Chad: We discussed a comeback- will fans see you on the mound in 2013 and why are you returning?
I have that passion back and that desire to play again. Especially now that spring training is here. I love watching games. It’s making me get that itch to go play again. So next year I will be making a comeback. I’m not ready to give up on baseball yet. I just needed time away from it. I love the game. As much as I hated the game last year, I would still never walk away from the game I’ve loved since I was 5. I don’t want to end my career on what happened last year. I will do everything I can to make Tehya proud of me and hopefully one day I can make it back to the big leagues. I will do whatever it takes to do that. Whether that means playing independent ball or starting in A and AA next year. I don’t care. I just want to play. Hopefully a team will give me a shot.
Last question: if you could send out a message to your fans- what would it be?
I just want fans to know that Jamie and I appreciate all the support all of you have given us this past year. All of you helped us get through this hard time. Hopefully I can thank you all in person one day!
***Thank you to Chad Cordero for one of the most fun and unique interviews in the history of the Reports. An interview while getting a tattoo is certainly breaking new ground for us! You can follow Chad on Twitter (@ChadCordero32). Feel free to wish Chad luck on his major league comeback…and make sure to tell him that MLB reports sent ya!***
Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
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Posted on March 22, 2012, in Interviews with MLB Stars and tagged baseball, chad cordero, closer, cy young, mlb, montreal expos, reliever, saves, seattle mariners, toronto blue jays, washington nationals. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.