Colorado Rockies: Michael Saunders has “nothing to lose” battling for spot

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29: Michael Saunders #21 of the Toronto Blue Jays grounds a ball in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 29, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29: Michael Saunders #21 of the Toronto Blue Jays grounds a ball in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 29, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /
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Scottsdale, Arizona — After a 2018 season where he never saw time in the Major Leagues and bounced between four different franchises, Michael Saunders nearly walked away from baseball. The former All-Star outfielder was contemplating retirement and didn’t know if he would get another chance to step onto a Major League field. Then came a fateful call on Christmas Eve from the Colorado Rockies.

It was that call that led Michael Saunders on a path to Scottsdale and inside Rockies camp this spring. After signing a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training, the 32-year-old Saunders was ready to show that there was still plenty for him to give a Major League team.

And that team is the Colorado Rockies, a team Saunders considers his home team since he lives in Castle Rock, Colo., roughly 40 minutes south from Coors Field.

“It was the first time I had done that in my career,” Saunders said of his 2018 journey in an exclusive interview. “When I ended up getting released in mid-June by the White Sox, it was kind of a no-brainer for me to go home, catch my breath and be a dad again. It was the first time I had a summer with my kids, and my wife for that matter, since I could remember.

“This is going to be my 15th season. Catching up on family time was good for me, to put things in perspective and get a breath of fresh air. It allowed me to recharge the batteries a little bit. Nothing is more important to me than family. I was able to spend the summer with my kids for once. They’re getting to the age where they realize Dad’s not around all of the time.”

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Those kids (almost 7, 5 and 2 years old) will know one day that their dad made the 2016 American League All-Star team and was one of five Major League players that season to record at least 30 doubles, 20 home runs and 50 walks.

They’ll also know that Saunders would never recover from a post-All-Star slump where he batted just .178 and just .202 in 73 games the next season between Philadelphia and Toronto before being shut out of the Majors in 2018.

Retirement became a thought for Saunders last summer as his options and passion for the game seemingly waned.

“It was weighing on my mind,” he said. “I talked to a lot of different people about it, ex-players, front office people I have created a relationship with over the years and family. We came to the decision that I wasn’t ready to retire yet. I felt like I had a lot to give to a Major League club. I don’t want to be three or four or five years down the road and have any regrets about what might have happened if I wouldn’t have given it one more chance.”

As he sat during last season wondering what his future would hold, he kept up with the culture that the Rockies were building in LoDo.

“One of the things I realized in ’15 and ’16 with Toronto going to back-to-back championship series is that winning is contagious,” Saunders explained. “Winning is something I wanted to do the rest of my career. I hadn’t experienced that until then. It was the perfect scenario with Colorado and their back-to-back playoff appearances. They’re obviously very competitive and that was really desirable to me as well.”

After moving to Colorado in 2011, Saunders said he had “been trying to become a Rockie since then.” When the Rockies called on Christmas Eve, Saunders called it “an early Christmas present.

“I made sure in the offseason I was fit and ready to go in case the opportunity came. When Colorado called me, it was a no-brainer. If I could be 30 minutes from my home and drop my kids off every day, that would be a dream scenario for me.”

Saunders broke into baseball with the Mariners in 2005, so there have been plenty of spring training moments and experiences in his career. However, he says walking into Rockies camp this year was different than anything he had felt in quite some time.

“With what I went through last year, I found the love of the game again,” Saunders said. “When I made a decision to make sure I was in shape to pursue a comeback, I feel like I have nothing to lose because I’m playing for the love of the game. I haven’t felt this excited for spring training in a long time.”

Heading into Tuesday’s action, in 16 plate appearances spanning seven games, Saunders is hitting .333/.500/.417 with a double and an RBI. He knows he is competing with a young outfielding corps for playing time and a roster spot but is encouraged by what he is seeing so far.

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“I feel like I’m starting to see the ball a little better. I’ve just been getting under it a little bit and just missing a few balls.” Saunders said. “I know that’ll come. The fact that I am receiving these at-bats and getting an opportunity, that’s what is important. I’m going to try to seize the opportunity.”