PORT CHARLOTTE — Rock Seguin was headed to Connecticut for a tryout with a community college baseball team looking for a catcher. His friend asked if he could tag along, sort of make it a buddy road trip from Navan, Ontario to the States.
Seguin’s friend was a pitcher. Who knows? Maybe they were looking for some pitching.
That’s how Erik Bedard ended up at Norwalk Community College.
He wasn’t planning to play college baseball in Canada or in America.
“No,” he said, “it was just to go and basically have fun.”
Bedard was a stick figure back then, 6 feet tall and tipping the scales at 150 pounds. But he did throw at NCC that weekend. His fastball reached 78 mph, and the coaches saw a left-hander who would grow into his body and a fastball that would get better. Turns out, both happened.
Bedard, who turns 35 next month, is now a veteran of 10 big-league seasons and three surgeries on his left arm.
He is in the Tampa Bay Rays’ camp on a minor-league contract thanks to Jeremy Hellickson’s elbow injury, vying with Jake Odorizzi for a spot in the rotation.
If he doesn’t make the rotation, Bedard could wind up as the long man in the bullpen.
“I’m not used to pitching in the bullpen,” Bedard said, “but I’ll get used to it.”
Bedard spent last season with the Houston Astros, taking his lumps in a 111-loss season. The young Astros pitchers called him “Gramps,” and the old man was willing to share all he knew about pitching and life in the big leagues.
Bedard was 4-12 with a 4.59 ERA in 32 games (26 starts) for the Astros. He was 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA in 24 starts the previous season with Pittsburgh.
Those are not eye-catching numbers, but Rays manager Joe Maddon said the formulas the team uses to evaluate pitchers suggested Bedard was better last season than his numbers indicate.
“It was a tough situation,” Maddon said. “Houston’s trying to create their own identity (by going with a young, inexperienced team), so he had a tough time. The stuff we looked at was a lot better. You’d like to think putting him in front of our defense is going to make that even better.”
Bedard spent the first five years of his career in Baltimore. Maddon, who said he’s always been a fan of Bedard, liked the way he negotiated the hard-hitting AL East by throwing something other than fastballs on fastball counts.
“He was uncanny at that,” Maddon said, “and that’s why I thought he really ruled when he was in Baltimore.”
Bedard, who mixes a curve and a change-up with his low-90s fastball, said he’s a much different pitcher than the one who faced Tampa Bay as a member of the Orioles. The surgeries had something to do with that, as did the simple fact Bedard matured as a pitcher.
“Well, before, I tried to throw it by them. I don’t try that anymore,” he said. “The ego’s gone.”
Good thing, too, because Bedard wondered all winter if he was finished as a big-league pitcher. He worked out in his garage, pitching to his brother, Mark, while waiting for a call from any big-league team looking for pitching.
Bedard’s phone was quiet until one afternoon in early February when his agent called with news that Hellickson would miss the first six to eight weeks of the season after having minor elbow surgery. Maybe the Rays would call. They did, and Bedard signed just before the start of camp.
“He’s funny. You never got that from watching from a distance,” Maddon said. “I kind of like his personality. I think he fits in well here. He seems to be physically well. His stuff is still really good.”
Whatever happened to Rock Seguin? He left NCC after one season.
Bedard, meanwhile, grew into a major-league prospect.
“After the first year, one scout said if I hit 90 I had a good chance of being drafted. I said, ‘Really? That’s all I got to do?’ ” Bedard said.
He added 35 pounds, pitched winter and fall baseball and hit 92 on the radar gun during his sophomore season. The Orioles drafted him in the sixth round. That was in June of 1999.
“And here I am,” Bedard said. “Good story, huh? It’s not bad.”