20 years later, Canada's Cormier back on the mound
BEIJING (AP) Rheal Cormier is back in Olympics and back in Asia. This time, the Canadian pitcher is representing his country at age 41.
"Twenty years apart," he said, laughing and shaking his head.
His baseball career was all but over when the opportunity emerged. Cormier spent five weeks leading to the Beijing Games pitching in a senior men's league in his native New Brunswick to regain his mechanics and arm strength.
"I feel like I'm 20 again," Cormier said. "The only thing they (young players) can give me is an Olympic gold medal. Let's shock the world!"
Cormier pitched for the Canadians in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Not many can say they're a two-time Olympian, separated by two decades.
"That's pretty special," said Greg Hamilton, Canada's director of national teams and also a coach. "He's throwing the ball pretty well. He's 41 and has some kids, so he will figure out what he wants to do. With Rheal, he has a wealth of experience in the professional game and a wealth of experience in the international game."
In only about a year's time, Cormier's job went from the luxurious life in the majors to a gig with his hometown Moncton Mets of the New Brunswick Senior League.
That's a serious change of scenery for someone with a 16-year big league career for St. Louis, Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia and Cincinnati. Yet the left-hander had no qualms in doing whatever he deemed necessary to prepare himself and get back to full strength.
"That was a good time. It ended up being more than I thought it was going to be as far as going back and competing there to get ready for these Olympics," he said. "I'm glad I did it now. The average age was probably 25-26. Yeah, I was the father."
Canada isn't favored to medal in Beijing, though in a seven-game, round-robin tournament anything can happen - and all the teams involved realize it. A strong showing in China could kick-start a comeback for Cormier, although he's not thinking that far ahead just yet.
"I'm leaving the door open," Cormier said. "If the opportunity comes up, it would be great. If it doesn't, it's been good, so I just want to concentrate on this and enjoy these Olympics while we're here. If it's bound to happen, it will, and if not I'm totally content."
Cormier was pleased to have about 30 innings under his belt leading to Canada's 10-0, eight-inning win over China in an Olympic opener Wednesday, in which he allowed a double to leadoff hitter Lingfeng Sun in the eighth to put runners on second and third before striking out the next three batters to preserve the shutout.
"It's a rush," he said. "It was a big win for us. I really don't get nervous. I just try to make pitches."
Cormier enjoyed getting to spend some quality time with his extended family back home while pitching in the senior league.
"I feel good. At the beginning when I first started throwing in that league it was a little bit iffy," Cormier said. "But over time my arm got back to where it's been before."
The 1988 Olympics came in the same year Cormier was drafted in the sixth round by the St. Louis Cardinals. He broke into the majors in 1991.
Cormier retired in 2007, less than a month after the Reds released him and Atlanta signed him to a minor league contract to pitch for its Triple-A affiliate at Richmond, Virginia. Cormier made six appearances with just three innings in 2007 for the Reds.
Canadian manager Terry Puhl believes it's a real possibility for Cormier to play professionally again and plans to use him often in these games.
"I think his arm is healthy," Puhl said. "Anyone who's pitched as long as he has, your arm is going to be tired. He could use this as a steppingstone to the big leagues. He's a professional."
Whatever happens, Cormier plans to return to Canada regularly and stay involved in baseball - perhaps to start a baseball academy in his town. He soon will move into a new home in Park City, Utah.
"I want to try to help out the kids for them to learn to play the game the right way and try to give back that way," he said.