You all heard the story of Beauty and the Beast and Jack and the Beanstalk, but did you ever hear the one about Matt and the Octopus? No? Well now you will.
Once upon a time there was a baseball player named Matt Anderson. Matt became known far and wide for his ability to consistently throw a baseball over 100 miles per hour. His ability was so great that after college he was the first amateur baseball player in all the land to be selected by a major league team, even ahead of the mighty J.D. Drew. In his first season as a professional relief pitcher he went 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA and 13 Saves in the minor leagues. It was good enough for the Tigers of Detroit to summon him to the Motor City to see how he would do against the best baseball players money could buy. In 42 relief appearances the young phenom won 5 games while losing only one time and he had an ERA of just 3.27. Though it was a daunting task for someone with so little major league experience, over the next 3 years Matt managed to win 8 more games while losing just 4 times and also registered 23 Saves for the Tigers.
Then came the 2002 season and that terrible day in the month of May when Matt and fellow pitcher Jeff Weaver participated in a unique pre-game promotion. You see, there is also a hockey team in Tigerland known as the Red Wings. For many years it has been a tradition in Detroit to throw an octopus (or multiple octopi) onto the ice during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The tradition began at a time when a hockey team only had to win 2 best of seven series’, a total of 8 wins, to earn the Stanley Cup. Since the Red Wings needed 8 wins and an octopus had 8 arms it made perfect sense to the people of Detroit to throw an octopus onto the ice for luck. But, on this fateful day in May an octopus throwing contest was held not at the hockey arena, but at a baseball game in Detroit. Contestants, including Matt Anderson and Jeff Weaver, had to toss a boiled octopus underhand into a bucket placed 20 feet away. The winner of the contest would win tickets (complete with limo ride) to a Stanley Cup playoff game between the Red Wings of Detroit and the Colorado Avalanche. All went well in the contest until the Tigers played their baseball game that night. While Matt was warming up in the bullpen he felt something tear in the armpit of his pitching arm. It was the beginning of the end for Matt and the 100 mph fastball. Just 11 innings pitched for the Tigers in 2002, 23 innings in 2003 and his ERA was more than double what it had been his first few years. The 2004 season saw Matt go 0-5 in the minor leagues and things didn’t get any better the next few seasons. He pitched his final game in the major leagues on July 1, 2005 and by 2008 he was out of professional baseball entirely. While there is nothing to indicate that throwing the octopus had anything to do with Matt’s arm injury, one has to wonder since the octopus throwing contest happened on the same day he injured his arm and what good is the fairytale without the octopus casting his evil spell?
Then, after being out of professional baseball for 2 years Matt decided to give it one more try. He went to Arizona to see if he could regain his old form. The fastball which had been a thing of the past was slowly starting to return. First he was throwing 90 mph, then 92-94 mph and finally he was reaching as high as 97 on the radar. Phillies scout Del Unser saw his workouts in Arizona and convinced Ruben Amaro Jr. to take a chance. So, on January 14th the now 34 year old Matt Anderson signed a 1 year minor league contract with an invitation to spring training with the Philadelphia Phillies. Spring training begins in just over 2 weeks and Matt and his new fastball will be there in Clearwater. If everything goes well, Matt could be a member of the 2011 Ironpigs bullpen on opening day. Then maybe we’ll find out if a kiss from the pig can be the magic potion that finally breaks the spell of the evil octopus and resurrects the baseball career of Matthew Jason Anderson. It’s been a long hard journey for Matt and he really needs a happily ever after ending to his baseball fairytale. Best of luck Matt!