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Carpenter Holding on to Hope

Cardinals Pitcher Would Like to Play, But Knows He Can’t

  • St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

    St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter speaks about his future during a press conference Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, in St. Louis. Carpenter will be out for the foreseeable future due to a reoccurring injury. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

    St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter speaks about his future during a press conference Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, in St. Louis. Carpenter will be out for the foreseeable future due to a reoccurring injury. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
  • St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter speaks about his future during a press conference Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, in St. Louis. Carpenter will be out for the foreseeable future due to a reoccurring injury. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Jupiter, Fla. — The St. Louis Cardinals’ ace is back. But he’s just visiting.

Righthander Chris Carpenter, presumed out for the season and probably for good with a nerve ailment that just won’t abate, came to the Cardinals’ clubhouse earlier this month for the first time this spring.

In a lengthy sit-down in the office of Mike Matheny, Carpenter’s former manager and catcher (both in St. Louis and Toronto), Carpenter, at one point, talked of looking for a “miracle” so that his career could continue.

“I feel like it might still happen,” said Carpenter. Then, he added, more to the point, “I’m not going to say that it won’t. But I know that mentally it’s hard to continue to try to trick myself and trick them that I’m going to be OK.

“I’m tired of trying to trick everybody. It’s too hard. I don’t know. I guess I’ll always hold out hope. “

Hope is all there is for Carpenter, who suddenly is faced with what can be a harsh realization his career has ended on somebody else’s terms and not his. And that his ability to live a normal life is in, at least, some jeopardy.

Matheny said, “I’m not going to tell him to give up.

“I haven’t been in any other field, but it just seems so hard to compare it to anybody else that goes through a retirement. It seems like most have a long, exit strategy planned out. This game we play, whether you want it to or not, becomes part of your identity.

“When that goes away quickly, it’s hard to make that adjustment, if you really haven’t allowed yourself to go there.”

Carpenter, sporting some curls beneath his backward cap rather than a short haircut or no hair at all on his head, had been vacationing in Puerto Rico with his wife, Alyson, son Sam and daughter Ava. His wife had suggested the family stop in the Jupiter area for a week to watch some games and visit some friends, and Carpenter finally agreed.

Sam Carpenter, 10, also pushed his dad to come since he had been coming to Jupiter every year since he was six-months-old.

Like his dad, Sam went into the clubhouse and met some old friends. “It’s important for him to be a part of it, too,” said Carpenter, who will be 38 next month.

Carpenter said that before he went on holiday, he went through some tests with Dr. George Paletta, the Cardinals’ medical supervisor, in St. Louis. Carpenter said there hadn’t been any change involving the nerve issue that has dogged him for years and required surgery in July although, remarkably, he had come back to pitch at the end of the season.

Even in everyday life, such as driving his car or walking on the beach in Puerto Rico, Carpenter said he sometimes felt compromised now. He said he still felt numbness in his right hand and general numbness and weakness in his right arm. These conditions are the upshot of a weeklong throwing exercise Carpenter indulged in in January when he thought he was getting in shape for spring training, only to have the nerve problem recur.

“I was planning on playing,” Carpenter said. “I was excited about being a part of this team.”

Asked whether he still wanted to keep playing — and whether he could — Carpenter said, “I do. But I don’t think I can. That’s something that goes through my mind all the time.”

Carpenter was in the midst of a workout in Puerto Rico last week when he discovered that the Cardinals’ game a week ago with the New York Yankees was on television. “I started thinking about wanting to come back ... but I know the ultimate result won’t be good,” said Carpenter.

“I’ll never officially retire. I’m going to continue to work hard and try to stay in shape and see what these doctors have to say to make sure ... that my arm and my shoulder are going to be OK to do normal stuff throughout the rest of my life and I’m not going to have any effects five, six, 10 years down the road.”

The operation Carpenter had in Dallas last year will be the last one he will have, he said. “I just don’t see it getting better, to be honest with you,” he said.

Matheny and the players were delighted to see Carpenter, whose visit was a surprise to many.

Infielder Daniel Descalso said, “It was great to have him back and to jump right in ragging on guys.”

Descalso said he understood how difficult it was for Carpenter to be in the clubhouse and not have his traditional corner locker — or any locker. “But I would hope he comes around during the season,” Descalso said.

“He means a lot to this team. We need that loud booming voice (in the dugout). He definitely could scream at opposing players — that intimidation factor, like a hockey enforcer,” said Descalso, laughing.

“I’m sure he wouldn’t mind playing that role.”

Carpenter should have known how his visit would play out, but he said, “I was definitely nervous and anxious about it, driving up.”

Last week, Carpenter had checked signals with general manager John Mozeliak to see if it would be all right if he came. Mozeliak told Carpenter the same thing that Matheny did, that Carpenter could do anything he wanted. “This is his team,” said Matheny.

“I didn’t want it to be a big production,” said Carpenter.

Matheny, who had been “pounding on” Carpenter to come to camp, said, however, “It’s not a guilt thing that he needs to be here. I’d love to get him in uniform but that’s a push right now.”

He has talked of miracles, but Carpenter really isn’t going to wait for one.

“I knew at some point in time, it was going to come to an end,” he said. “I was hoping to make the choice myself. But you knew it was going to happen.”