When the tornado formed May 20 near Newcastle, Marnie Wright desperately tried to get in touch with her husband, Jamey, a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Wrights moved to Dallas a few years ago, but parents on both sides of the family live in the Moore area.
Jamey was in Toronto. The Rays had lost a 7-5 afternoon game. Concluding his postgame workout, Wright was in the visitor's weight room.
“My phone buzzed. My wife was screaming and crying,” Wright said. “I asked, ‘What's going on?' She screamed, ‘tornadoes.' I turn the training room TV on to CNN. This was before it got huge, at the very beginning.”
Marnie already had contacted her parents. After he hung up, Jamey called his father.
“He told me exactly where it was at,” Wright said. “It ended up being just a little south of both our families.”
Wright's mother-in-law was friends with the mother and daughter who lost their lives at the 7-Eleven on a day winds peaked at 210 mph.
“It's just awful,” Wright said. “We have friends of friends that lost their homes, lost everything. I went back there on my off day three days later. To see it ... those poor people affected by it, I don't have words. They'll get through this, but I just feel so bad for them.”
A first-round pick by the Colorado Rockies 20 years ago out of Westmoore, Wright, 38, has lived most of his life in Moore.
“I always tell people that's where I'm from,” Wright said. “The kindest people I've ever been around are right there in Moore.”
Jamey, his wife and three children — daughter Presley, 9, and sons Jett, 6, and Cash, 5 — made their offseason home in Moore until three years ago. After playing two seasons with the Texas Rangers, they purchased a home in Highland Park.
“We really don't have to drive,” Wright said. “I can walk my kids to school in about four minutes. They sort of call it the bubble, a two-mile area that provides everything you need. We love it there, but Moore will always be home.”
10 different MLB teams
Eight consecutive seasons Wright has reported to spring training as a nonroster invitee. Eight consecutive seasons Wright has made a major league roster.
The first decade of his career Wright had guaranteed contracts. He made 246 starts before converting to the bullpen in his early 30s.
Wright hasn't started a game in six years, but eight times he made more than 20 starts, the majority with the Rockies, who drafted him with the 28th overall selection.
“Colorado is still one of my favorite parks,” Wright said. “I just wish I would have pitched a little better there.”
The list of 10 teams Wright has pitched for is exhibit A how a former starting pitcher revived his career as a bullpen specialist.
The list of major league teams Wright has pitched for: Rockies, Brewers, Cardinals, Royals, Giants, Rangers, Indians, Mariners, Dodgers and Rays.
“I'm doing what I love to do,” Wright said. “I've been a baseball fan since I was six years old. I'd grab the newspaper and see how George Brett and Bret Saberhagen were doing with the Royals.
“You see so many guys have shoulder or elbow problems. I've never had shoulder surgery. I've been blessed to stay healthy. I feel as good the past couple of years as I've ever felt. I'm throwing the ball as well as I ever have.”
Casey Close, Wright's longtime agent who represents high-profile clients such as Derek Jeter and Ryan Howard, told the Seattle Times two years ago he's enjoyed watching Wright extend his career.
“What a fantastic human being,” Close said. “He fought through a few hardships and still made himself a very effective pitcher. Jamey always has had a passion for the game. It comes through. That's one reason his success has continued further than other players.”
When he pitched for Westmoore in the early '90s, a program that started from scratch in 1989, Wright didn't have grandiose expectations. He would have been thrilled with a college scholarship.
Two decades later, Wright calls up boxscores on his iPad to keep tabs on dozens of former teammates, like Todd Helton and Matt Holliday.
“Playing for all these teams, I've got more friends than anybody,” Wright said. “That's important. The relationships I've made in this game I've been very blessed. I cherish every one of them. That's the fun part, the part I will miss someday.”
A month ago, the Rays and Indians sat through a 2-hour, 39-minute rain delay in Cleveland. The game was stopped in the top of the second inning.
Tampa Bay ace Matt Moore (8-0 at the time) pitched the first inning, but pitchers rarely return after a near three-hour delay.
Rays manager Joe Maddon asked Wright to give them a few innings. Wright did more. Much more. Wright pitched four hitless innings and struck out four to pick up the win in a game that ended around 3 a.m.
“That was about as cool a win as I've experienced in professional baseball,” Maddon said after the game. “I'm really proud of our guys, especially Jamey Wright. He was the hero of the night.”
A ground-ball specialist, Wright's sinkerball is his most effective pitch. He also throws a four-seam fastball, curveball and change-up.
His role varies from game to game. Maddon might ask Wright to throw an inning or two when the Rays are trailing to preserve the bullpen. Sometimes Wright is brought in to protect a lead in the middle innings.
Wright's versatility is the primary reason he's still pitching in the majors 18 months shy of his 40th birthday.
“It would be different if I was a closer or a setup man,” Wright said. “For them to give a roster spot to a 38-year-old reliever, possibly lose one of their 21-year-old kids (on waivers), it's not ideal every year going to spring training without a job.
“But they know I can do about anything. I can pitch back-to-back days. General managers know I'm durable. I have no problem having to win a job. But it can be pretty stressful not having a guaranteed job.”
Pitching out of the bullpen, Wright's stats have improved with age. Over the past sevens seasons, Wright's ERA (3.97) has been nearly a run lower than his career average.
“My job is simple: I try to get ground balls with my sinker,” Wright said. “To me it's all about getting outs.”
The past 18 seasons, Wright has recorded nearly 6,000 outs.
“I've been blessed to do what I do, compete in a game I still love,” Wright said. “I still get nervous when that phone rings. When they open the gate, and you run to the mound, there's still nerves after all these years.”
Yearning for a playoff appearance
Bolstered by a deep, talented, pitching pipeline, Tampa Bay has reached the playoffs three of the last five seasons, including playing in the 2008 World Series, the year the Rays won a franchise best 97 games.
Wright has never pitched in the postseason.
“It would be so cool if I ever got to pitch in the playoffs,” Wright said. “I'm on a really cool team with a great manager. They have fun. And they win.”
Tampa Bay (54-41) leads the American League wild card standings entering the second half of the season.
The Rays lead the Rangers by a half a game. At the All-Star break, Texas owns the second wild card spot, one game in front of Baltimore, 21/2 games in front of the Yankees and Indians.
The closest Wright came to the postseason was 2002, when the Cardinals traded for the 6-foot-6, 210-pound right-hander late in the season.
Obtained to fill a need — St. Louis starters Matt Morris and Woody Williams were on the disabled list — Wright went 2-0 in three starts. When Morris and Williams returned, Wright was sent to an already set bullpen. The Cardinals left Wright off their playoff roster.
“I play for the opportunity to get champagne sprayed in my eyes,” Wright said. “I've always dreamed about pitching in the playoffs or World Series. That would be awesome if I ever got that chance.”
Regardless how the 2013 season unfolds, Rick McIntire, Wright's coach at Westmoore, said Wright made the most of his opportunity.
“Jamey always understood where he came from. He's never changed,” McIntire said. “He was a real down-to-earth kid. He always appreciated the opportunity he was given. One thing that's helped his longevity is he's grounded. He's always understood he's one throw away from his career being done.
“He's lived out every kid's dream and appreciates that. What a great career.”
Wright said it's hard to believe it's been two decades since he pitched at Westmoore.
“There are so many different emotions,” Wright said. “Looking back, when I first came up, supposedly a lot of players were on steroids. It made me grow up fast. I did it the right way. I didn't cheat. What you see is what you get.
“Having that background in Moore, made me the pitcher I've been all these years, being tough, being resilient. It's been an awesome ride.”