Big League Life: Five Questions with… Pitcher and World Series Champion Shane Loux

Photo courtesy Motor City Bengals.

This is the second in a series of posts centered on life inside professional baseball. Major League Baseball’s annual Spring Training exhibition slate is in full swing with Opening Day approaching in a few short weeks. Opening Day also marks the release of my next book, a baseball-themed novel titled, Big League Life (available wherever books are sold on March 30, pre-order now on Amazon). While a work of fiction, it was my intention to create an authentic world filled with characters and experiences that ring true. To do this, I relied heavily on exhaustive research and first-hand accounts from many people within the game — one such person being the subject of today’s “Five Questions with…” post, Shane Loux.

During a pro baseball career spanning nearly 20 years, Loux did a little bit of everything. Drafted in the second round of the 1997 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Detroit Tigers, Loux threw his first big league pitch after a late-season call-up for a bottom-dwelling Detroit Tigers team in 2002 and his last for the San Francisco Giants on their way to a 2012 World Series championship. In between, Loux played parts of five seasons with the Tigers, Giants, and Los Angeles Angels with pit stops in the Kansas City Royals’ and Houston Astros’ minor league systems along the way.

The life of a Major League pitcher, especially one often making a living in the bullpen, can be unpredictable. Loux experienced it all in his career in pro ball — the highs of a big league call-up and a World Series victory, and the lows of demotions and injury. While writing Big League Life, he was instrumental in coaching me on the dynamics of the player/coach relationship and for offering a window into the player experience. I’m pleased to share with you a glimpse inside the Big League Life from the perspective of someone who lived it.

Take me back to September 10, 2002, your Major League debut. What do you remember of that experience? 22 years old, stepping on a big-league mound for the first time… that must have been a surreal experience.

I remember the Metrodome [former home of the Minnesota Twins] looking like the biggest place I had ever seen. I remember it was my first time in an air-pressured place with revolving doors so the air wouldn’t escape, and the place would collapse. I thought that it was so cool. I was told that, whatever I do, do not look up towards the press boxes above the seats behind home plate because there was a giant digital readout of the pitch speed and it would screw me up. I remember looking up after the first pitch. I remember thinking there was no way in the world that Jacque Jones would swing at the first pitch from a rookie in his first game and to just lay in in there so that my first ever MLB pitch would forever be a strike. I did and he took the biggest damn swing I had ever seen and fouled in straight back. Then I looked up to see how hard I threw it, 93 mph. I remember David Ortiz hitting cleanup back before he was Big Papi. He was my first MLB punch out. I remember Torii Hunter taking me deep. I remember everything in detail about that day.

Staying with 2002, how did you learn of your call-up? Can you walk me through that process? Specifically, how you were informed, what happened next, how you were received in the big-league clubhouse…

I pitched in a playoff game in Durham, N.C. against the Bulls and we lost and were eliminated. I was called into the managers office with another guy and we were told we were flying out to NYC the next morning to go play the Yankees. I remember almost crying on the spot. When I was in “A” ball in Grand Rapids, Mich., my pitching coach Steve McCarty told me that I better be nice to him and get used to working with him because one day, when I got to the show, he was going to be my pitching coach. I will never forget that when I got to Yankee Stadium and walked into the clubhouse, “Cat,” who was then the MLB pitching coach, was standing in the door waiting for me and laughing, “I told you.”

You’ve pitched in the starting rotation and out of the bullpen during your career. Do you prefer one assignment over the other? What do you see as the biggest difference in terms of preparing for those roles?

The best pitchers on the team are almost always the starting pitchers, so that was always my goal. To be a starter in the MLB means you are one of the best 150 pitchers in the world at that moment and I would by lying if I didn’t say that that is what drove me. The routine of starting and predictability of each non-start day was comforting to me and I loved it. As a reliever, I loved the fact that I prepared to play everyday and had that nervous feeling in my stomach from the first pitch to the last. I liked wearing my spikes every day but starting will always hold a special place in my heart.

You last pitched in 2015 for the independent Sugarland Skeeters — and pitched extraordinarily well, too. How did you make the decision to hang it up after that season? After pitching so well as a full-time starter, did you think about perhaps giving it another go in 2016? How did you find the transition into retirement?

I had my second Tommy John surgery in June of 2013 while in Triple-A [highest level of the minor leagues] for San Francisco. I rehabbed and was back active in the last month or so for the 2014 season. At the conclusion of that year, I became a free agent. I had a meeting with SF brass about possibly becoming a coach in their organization, but knew in my heart that I wasn’t done playing. I had a chip on my shoulder after being told during rehab that a young, healthy guy in my position had about a 17 percent chance of ever pitching again. I was 35 at the time, so almost nobody gave me a shot of ever playing again, let alone successfully. Nobody wanted to sign a 35-year-old coming off his second TJ, so I explored the option of Sugarland and decided to take that opportunity. I had to sign away my medical rights just to get on the field, because they really didn’t want any part of me either. That ended up being some of my most favorite time in all my 20 years of playing. I loved the staff, I loved the town, I loved the players, I loved everything about it. I was pitching well but was watching others get the opportunities back into affiliated ball that I could have gotten, and I understood my time was coming to an end. I was pitching well, my family was with me, and I was having the time of my life playing baseball. But without any concrete offers, I decided that I was in the perfect position to determine my own fate in the game and walk away. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The first year of retirement was tough and presented some unique challenges, but I would never go back, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Your final appearance in the Majors was for the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants — and you played a pivotal role down the stretch for that ballclub, notching a win in the season’s final days and pitching very well in September. I’d love to hear more about the experience of pitching for a World Series contender — what was it like to take the mound in front of a packed house and to play with a team destined for postseason glory?

Playing in and playing for San Francisco was the best baseball experience of my career. I was a no-name, middle relief guy and I would get recognized at dinner or walking down the street. It was unreal how much we were loved and how we were treated on and off the field. There were expectations of a constant high level of play and it was a blast to be on that team day in and day out. We weren’t the most talented team ever, but we played together and rallied around each other as well as I have ever seen. The addition of Hunter Pence at the trading deadline was the thing that pushed us over the edge and allowed us to believe we could accomplish great things. I think we proved that year that a group of motivated, like-minded guys who truly cared for each other could come together and beat anyone against any odds. It was an honor to wear the uniform and I’m blessed to be able to show off my World Series ring from 2012.

Look for the third post in this series to drop next Thursday, March 18!

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Big League Life, a work of fiction, tells the story of the men and women at work and play in pro ball. Following a fictionalized version of the Philadelphia Phillies, Big League Life brings its readers through the highs and lows that come with life in The Show.

Author, Diehards: Why Fans Care So Much About Sports - buy it here: http://amzn.to/1WOIT1F. Athletics / Phillies fan. @SABR member. Views are my own.