Bush fo­cuses on his fu­ture, not past

Pitcher’s come­back spurs in­ter­est in his story of off-field strug­gles.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Stephen Hawkins

There was a feel­ing of nor­mal­ity for Matt Bush when he got on the mound for the Texas Rangers as a 30-yearold rookie last sea­son.

“Felt like I was meant to al­ways be there,” Bush said.

In­deed, he was a for­mer No. 1 over­all draft pick.

But he al­most threw it all away with sev­eral al­co­hol-re­lated in­ci­dents that cul­mi­nated in a wreck dur­ing spring train­ing in Florida five years ago that al­most killed a 72-year-old man on a mo­tor­cy­cle. Bush spent 3½ years in prison after plead­ing no con­test in the case.

He is now in ma­jor league spring train­ing for the first time, nearly 13 years after he was drafted as a short­stop by his home­town San Diego Padres. His ma­jor league de­but as a hard-throw­ing re­liever last sea­son came after a mid-May call-up, and he went 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 58 ap­pear­ances for the Amer­i­can League West cham­pi­ons.

“I would have been in the ma­jor leagues and hav­ing suc­cess be­fore if I didn’t have the strug­gles off the field,” Bush said. “What I al­ways re­mem­ber, just con­tinue to stay sober and be a pos­i­tive role model off the field, and I can con­tinue to stay here.”

The suc­cess Bush had as a rookie on one of the AL’s best teams has only gen­er­ated more in­ter­est in his story and his come­back — in life and in baseball.

Bush is con­stantly asked to retell it, and the soft-spo­ken pitcher does just that.

“You know, I un­der­stand. I try to get out of my­self and think about what it’s re­ally like for some­one else look­ing in on my story,” Bush said. “I try not to let it bother me, and un­der­stand that I’m grate­ful to be here and this was go­ing to be the process be­fore I ever signed.”

Th­ese days, he tries not to make things too com­pli­cated.

Bush, who turned 31 last month, strives to stay sober each day — he says he has been since the March 2012 wreck — and looks for­ward to com­ing to the ball­park to spend time with teammates and to pitch. His dad is a con­stant com­pan­ion off the field in Ari­zona, and he still reg­u­larly at­tends Alcoholics Anony­mous meet­ings.

On the mound last sea­son, Bush said he al­ways felt he was in con­trol.

“I never felt over­matched; I never felt like I wasn’t go­ing to get the job done . ... Last year, I was very con­fi­dent and went out there with a good mind­set,” he said. “It’s not wor­ry­ing about this year of got to have a good year, got to re­peat it. Just re­mem­ber that I still have the same stuff.”

The Padres moved Bush to the mound mid­way through the 2007 sea­son after he strug­gled as a mi­nor league hit­ter. He missed the 2008 sea­son re­cov­er­ing from Tommy John surgery and all of 2009 after be­ing re­leased from Toronto’s mi­nor league camp be­cause of trou­ble there dur­ing spring train­ing. He joined Tampa Bay’s or­ga­ni­za­tion the next year.

Rangers of­fi­cials in 2015 watched Bush throw in the mid-90s in the park­ing lot of a Golden Cor­ral restau­rant in Florida, where he was in a work-re­lease pro­gram for the fi­nal nine months of his prison sen­tence.

Bush was signed that De­cem­ber, pitched in two games for Texas late last spring and then made 12 ap­pear­ances at Dou­ble-A Frisco be­fore go­ing to the big leagues nearly 12 years after be­ing drafted No. 1.

The pre­vi­ous long­est gap for a No. 1 over­all pick to make his ma­jor league de­but had been Josh Hamil­ton’s nearly eight years. Hamil­ton over­came al­co­hol and drug is­sues be­fore ap­pear­ing with Cincin­nati in 2007 and then go­ing to Texas, where he be­came a five-time All-Star and the 2010 AL most valu­able player.

Now Bush is go­ing into his se­cond ma­jor league sea­son, which of­ten can be a player’s most dif­fi­cult year.

“I don’t know too much more than my­self and what I’m ca­pa­ble of,” he said. “That’s all I’m re­ally fo­cused on, what I’m go­ing to be do­ing on the mound. I can’t re­ally fo­cus on my se­cond sea­son, a sopho­more slump, any­thing like that. I’m just try­ing to con­tinue to re­peat what got me here.”

Matt Bush spent 3½ years in prison after nearly killing a 72-year-old man in a 2012 crash.

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