- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

ATLANTA Chris Hammond wasn't one of those ex-players who missed the game.
After packing up his uniform and glove, he basically ignored baseball for 2 years. Instead, he hunted and fished and went horseback riding. He helped take care of his three kids. He started making some progress on his wife's lengthy "honey-do" list.
In the mornings, Hammond would get up at sunrise, pour himself a cup of coffee and look out over the lake at his timber farm in rural Alabama, alone with his thoughts until the rest of the family woke up. "My time," he called it.
"It was like he never played," said his wife, Lynne Hammond. "I figured it was really, really over."
Well, it wasn't. Hammond and his wife talked about the future, mostly about the three young children Andy, now 5; Jake, 3; and Alex, 2 who might never remember their dad was a pitcher in his former life.
So, he came back to the game determined to create a new set of memories. And this year, at age 36, Hammond capped his improbable comeback by earning a spot in the Atlanta Braves bullpen.
"The kids are having a great time," he said. "They can watch me give up four home runs in a game and they say, 'Way to go, dad!' You have to start laughing about it. You can't let this game bother your family life. That's what makes it fun again."
Hammond wasn't having much fun in 1998. He started the season in Class AAA, then went 0-2 with a 6.59 ERA in three starts after being called up by the defending World Series champion Florida Marlins.
After the Marlins sent him back to the minors, Hammond's frustration boiled over. He had bounced around for three years, from Florida to Boston and back to Florida again, without much success. While driving with his wife, he told her that it wasn't fun to go to work anymore.
"I don't care what you do," she told him. "If you're not happy with what you're doing, you should quit. You can work at McDonald's and life will be the same for us."
Suddenly, Hammond felt at peace. Even though he was only 32 surely capable of landing another job in a sport desperate for left-handed pitching he called his agent to pronounce his retirement.
Hammond headed home with his wife, who was pregnant with Jake. She was confined to bed for much of the next five months, so he had plenty to do at home.
"The first couple of years, I didn't miss it all," he said. "It was only during those two or three months that we talked about coming back that I started missing it."
Hammond still remembers the date he picked up a baseball again Nov. 15, 2000. He pulled a portable pitching mound out of storage and began throwing in a batting cage behind his house in Wedowee, Ala., a town of about 800.
He was all alone.
"I would throw a bag of balls, then I would go pick them up," Hammond recalled. "It felt good. At the end of the first week, it felt a little too good. I had to back off a little bit so I wouldn't hurt myself."
Hammond signed a minor-league contract with Cleveland and spent the first half of the 2001 season at their Class AAA club in Buffalo.
He went 7-3 with a 3.31 ERA, but soon realized he had no chance of getting called up by the Indians, who favored younger, harder-throwing pitchers. Hammond asked for his release and signed with Atlanta's Class AAA team in Richmond.
After going 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA, he was invited to camp this year as a non-roster player. Hammond took advantage of the opportunity with a strong spring, earning a spot on the 12-man staff.
"When I first saw him, I was kind of like, 'Hey there, Chris,'" Braves starter Tom Glavine said. "In the back of my mind, though, I was like, 'What's he doing here? Where's he been?'"
Hammond first reached the majors in 1990 with Cincinnati after going 15-1 at Class AAA Nashville. He was traded to Florida in 1993 and won a career-high 11 games with an expansion team, but injuries kept him from realizing his full potential. For the next four years, he never made it through a season without going on the disabled list.
With the Braves, Hammond is being used mostly in long relief. On Friday night, he picked up his first win since 1997 in a 2-1 victory over St. Louis; overall, he is 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 16⅔ innings.
The Braves are a perfect fit, allowing Hammond to remain a homebody even while he pitches in the big leagues. He still lives at his Southpaw Ranch, a 218-acre spread where he gets to sleep in his own bed and doesn't mind enduring the 1-hour commute to Turner Field.
"In my comeback, if you want to call it that, I've shown myself something just by making this staff," he said. "If it doesn't work out here, I'll go somewhere else."
Actually, it's already worked out. Hammond's kids have gotten to know Daddy, The Pitcher.
"We're trying to teach them every day," Lynne Hammond said, "that this is a very big treat."


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