When Daniel Bard last stepped off the mound at Fenway Park, it looked like his big league career was all but over.
Ten years later, he returns to Boston as one of baseball’s most unlikely success stories.
Now 37 and in his fourth season with the Colorado Rockies, the former Red Sox reliever is playing at Fenway Park for the first time since 2013, when he began what wound up being a seven-year journey through the baseball wilderness.
“It’s wild, man. It’s definitely a little bit surreal, in a good way,” Bard said. “I always wanted to come take my kids to a game here when they got a little older, I didn’t think I’d be playing in it, I thought I’d just be taking them as a fan.”
Bard’s last appearance in Boston came on April 27, 2013, when he walked two and allowed a run without recording an out during the eighth inning of an eventual 8-4 win over the Houston Astros. Coming off a disastrous 2012 and starting the year in Double-A, the outing was the last straw and Bard was subsequently demoted and later released.
Battling the yips and unable to command his pitches, he bounced around the minors for a couple of years and was out of baseball entirely by 2018.
Then, incredibly, Bard made it all the way back.
Bard announced his intention to give baseball one more try in February 2020, and after throwing for scouts he signed a minor league deal with the Rockies and ultimately made the club’s opening day roster once the pandemic-shortened season kicked off in July.
That summer he posted a 3.65 ERA in 23 appearances, and by the following year he’d emerged as one of the game’s top closers. Last season Bard was outstanding, posting a 1.79 ERA while ranking third in the National League with 34 saves.
Does Bard ever think about how improbable his journey is?
“I try to think about it every day,” Bard said. “I think it’s a good reminder, it helps me appreciate what I’ve got and appreciate this environment and this opportunity. It’s crazy, it’s wild that I’m here.”
Bard’s comeback hasn’t come without its bumps. During this spring’s World Baseball Classic Bard had the opportunity to pitch for Team USA, but his command abandoned him again and he wound up allowing eight runs over 1.2 innings of work.
Recognizing history repeating itself, Bard stepped away and started the season on the 15-day injured list with anxiety, a courageous and public acknowledgement of the impact mental health can have on an athlete. The reset appears to have paid off — Bard returned on April 19 and had a 0.79 ERA in 18 appearances entering Monday.
“I’m doing really well, took a couple of weeks to step away back in April, which was a hard decision to make at the time but I 100% know it was the right decision for me and I think for the team too,” Bard said. “I haven’t been perfect since I got back but I feel like I’m in a great spot. I feel like I’ve been able to stay clear-headed and go compete and do my best to help this team win some games.”
Despite how things ended, Bard said he still looks back at his time in Boston fondly. He has strong family connections to the area, noting that his grandfather coached at both MIT and Holy Cross, and he also spent time locally in the Cape Cod Baseball League before joining the Red Sox as a first-round pick in the 2006 MLB Draft.
“Ninety-eight percent positive, it was really just right there at the end where the negative memories were,” Bard said. “I don’t want to say I’ve blocked it out but I’ve moved past that now.”
Now a father of three, Bard said the thing he’s looking forward to most is showing his kids around Fenway Park. But beyond that, he’s hoping to reconnect with old friends, take in the familiar atmosphere and enjoy an experience that not long ago seemed unattainable.
“I look back on my first part of my career here and at the time I think I got so into trying to perform that I forgot to enjoy it at times,” Bard said. “This time around I’ve really tried to not take things for granted.”
Story making progress
Trevor Story is back at Fenway Park after spending the last few weeks rehabbing in Fort Myers, and Monday he was throwing up to 120 feet, another step forward in his recovery from elbow surgery.
Though Story does not have a specific target return date, he is optimistic he could return to the field in a reasonable amount of time.
“I feel good about coming back to play shortstop sometime in August,” Story said. “I know that’s what I want to do, that’s my goal, so that’s kind of where I’ve got my head at.”
Story said the next stages in his progression are to increase his throwing distance up to 150 feet, and eventually to start taking ground balls and doing dynamic activities like diving, getting up and throwing. He is also hitting off the pitching machine and hopes to soon begin taking live batting practice.
He also acknowledged he could potentially return as soon as July as a designated hitter, though they are still trying to determine if that’s the best course of action.
“It’s still on the table. It’s still definitely a possibility, I’m getting ready for that, that’s something I really want to do,” Story said. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it though, it’s not as simple as it seems, so I’m getting ready for that and we’ll make that decision here in the coming weeks.”
In other injury news: infielder Yu Chang (fractured left hamate) was pulled off his rehab assignment again after experiencing soreness in his wrist again. He will remain with the big league club this week and the hope is for him to resume his rehab next week.
Red Sox trailing in early All-Star vote
MLB has announced the initial leaders in this year’s All-Star vote, and as things stand the Red Sox would not have a single player advance as a finalist.
Rafael Devers is currently the Red Sox top contender, coming in at third among American League third baseman with 221,310 votes. He is well behind Toronto’s Matt Chapman (1st, 475,322) and Texas’ Josh Jung (2nd, 470,836), who appear set to advance to Phase 2 for the right to be voted in as the AL starting third baseman.
Masataka Yoshida is actually Boston’s leading vote getter (268,969) but ranks eighth among AL outfielders, with the top six advancing to the finals. Justin Turner is eighth among designated hitters (72,273) and Kiké Hernández is 10th among shortstops (43,651).
Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. (1,086,537) and Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani (924,182) are the top two vote-getters overall and the leaders of their respective leagues as well.
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