Mitchell Boggs saw a dramatic decline in his performance after pitching in the World Baseball Classic in 2013 but he doesn't think that was the reason. (File)
By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – With the World Baseball Classic starting this week, Mitchell Boggs understood the timing of the phone call.
It’s been four years since Boggs left the Cardinals’ spring camp to join Team USA for the 2013 WBC, an event that he considers one of the highlights of his baseball career.
It also in many ways was one of the final highlights, since it was shortly after he returned to the Cardinals that his career began to fall apart.
Boggs knows there is a popular theory that pitching in the WBC, and being away from spring training for two weeks, was a factor in his rapid decline, but he didn’t believe that was true then and he still doesn’t believe it now.
“I think that’s a popular answer. I know it was kind of hinted at by some people that they thought it had an effect on me,” Boggs said. “I would never ever say that … I think it puts the World Baseball Classic in a position that it doesn’t deserve being in.
“That spring was the best spring I ever had, not even close. I think it would be very easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Yeah that’s what happened, that’s the reason I struggled after that,’ but that’s just not the case. I wish I had the answer. I wish I had the reason why, but the reason why is, ‘That’s baseball.’ The World Baseball Classic is something I am very proud I got to be a part of and something I will be proud to tell my little boy about. It’s definitely not something I look back on with ill will or negative feelings for sure.”
Boggs was in line to become the Cardinals closer in 2013 after Jason Motte had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He earned three saves in eight appearances that spring, before and after the two weeks he spent with Team USA.
He appeared in two games for the U.S. team, which was eliminated in the first round, pitching 1 1/3 combined innings, allowing one hit and walking one.
“When I got back from that, things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to or the way anybody else wanted them to,” Boggs said. “Looking back on it I felt like I did something that was really neat and really cool and I loved being a part of and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
As the regular season began in 2013, the 29-year-old Boggs was excited about moving into the closer’s role, but it was just two games into the season when he suffered a blown save. He earned what would turn out to be one of only two saves that season in his next game, then got just one out and allowed four walks, which helped turn into six runs, in a disastrous game against the Reds.
By the end of April Boggs’ ERA stood at 12.66 and he had been moved out of the closer’s role. By the end of May he was in Triple A. In July his contract was purchased by the Rockies. He threw what would turn out to be his final pitch in the major leagues that September.
Boggs went from the White Sox to the Giants to the Braves over the next two years but never did get back to where he was in 2012, when he had a 2.21 ERA in 78 games for the Cardinals.
He decided to retire, returned to the University of Georgia and completed his degree in economics while serving as a volunteer coach for the Bulldogs. He is now back in his hometown of Dalton, Ga., with his wife and 2-year-old son, beginning a career in the carpet business.
“I certainly don’t think the WBC had anything to do with it,” Boggs said about the sudden downturn in his career. “That’s baseball. Some guys pitch forever and some don’t. Baseball leaves us all eventually. It left me a little bit earlier than I thought it would but it is what it is. You keep moving and keep living and that’s what I’m doing.”
If there is any possible explanation for what happened to Boggs, it likely can be traced to his heavy work load from the 2012 season. Combined with spring training, the regular season and the postseason, Boggs pitched in close to 100 games.
“I had been worked pretty hard that year,” he said. “It’s something I wouldn’t change because I loved it. I loved being counted on, loved getting the ball, loved him (Mike Matheny) running me out there. For whatever reason, I just ran out of gas.”
At least that didn’t happen before Boggs got to pitch in the WBC. He is reminded of the experience every time he looks at the team picture, or when he will get glances of games like will be played this weekend in Miami and three other spots around the world.
“I remember our first game against Mexico and the National Anthem and how excited Team Mexico’s fan base was, Boggs said. “It was just a really cool atmosphere. I know we thought, ‘This is bigger than the game of baseball, it’s bigger than the guys on these teams.’ There was just a sense of pride and I’m very thankful I got to be a part of it.”
Boggs has read about players who turned down invitations to play for their countries in the WBC, and he understands their reasoning, but he doesn’t agree with it.
“I wouldn’t tell anybody not to play in it,” he said. “I would tell them it’s an incredible experience and something that only a few guys will get to enjoy. To me it was a positive experience. I certainly don’t think it had anything to do with what happened (to me) moving forward.
“It’s great for baseball and the fans and hopefully it will continue to grow and more guys will want to be a part of it.”
Boggs, however, likely will not spend a lot of time watching the games this weekend on the television at his home.
“I love the game of baseball but it’s not something I sit down and watch religiously,” he said. “Just because it was something I did for such a long time, it’s not something me and my wife generally sit down and watch in the evenings. I will keep up with it and certainly pay attention to it.
“Certainly I am proud of my career. I did some pretty amazing things, played in one of the best baseball cities there is. There certainly were a lot more positives than negatives. I’m thankful for the relationships I got to be part of. It was an incredible time, no doubt about it.”
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