The odds are often not very good, but they keep on fighting, keep on trying to reclaim their former glory.
Las Vegas 51s right-hander Shawn Hill is intent on being one of those lucky few to pull off the improbable.
"The past four or five years, I wouldn't say a nightmare, but about as close to it as you can get as a pitcher," said Hill, who made 44 starts for the Expos, Nationals, Padres and Blue Jays from 2004-10, despite missing long stretches with injuries.
Hill reached the Majors at the age of 23 with Montreal in 2004, but missed the entire 2005 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. While that normally solves the problem for a pitcher, Hill said the pain in his arm did not go away.
Hill repeated Tommy John surgery in 2009, but felt pain even after that procedure.
"It was misdiagnosed the whole time," he said. "I had the pain in the back of the elbow and the forearm, [but] the symptoms didn't add up."
It was not until after the 2010 season that a doctor finally found the answer: Thoracic outlet syndrome, in which the blood vessels between the collarbone and rib cage become compressed.
"I had surgery Feb. 1, they took out the rib and [part of] the neck muscle," Hill said. "Since then, it's been fine. I've had the normal throwing pains that everybody goes through day in and day out. But the pain I had before is completely gone."
Though his pain was gone and Hill quickly worked himself back into shape, he did not find many offers coming his way.
"I threw for teams in April and a couple teams, they were interested, but they were basically scared of 'We'll sign you and you'll look good now and then you'll fall apart again,'" he said.
Hill trekked to the independent Atlantic League, joining the York Revolution. He went 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA in seven games, which in turn earned him a contract with the Blue Jays, for whom he pitched in 2010.
"It was an easy fit to come into," said Hill, a native of the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. "A lot of the coaches, the trainer here I knew. It wasn't like going to a new school, so to speak."
Hill said he's aware he will have to prove himself over and over to the Blue Jays -- and other teams -- that he can stay healthy. So far, he's done that while going 6-1 with a 4.50 ERA in nine starts for Las Vegas.
"The goal is to get back to the big leagues -- this is not where I want to be," Hill said. "I need to stay healthy and just prove to everybody that I finally am."
Storm catcher: Speaking of former big league players trying a comeback, ex-Mariners C Adam Moore is attempting to regain his form with Omaha. He played in 60 games with Seattle in 2010 but missed almost all of 2011 following right knee surgery, then missed time earlier this year with a broken finger and another knee surgery. The Royals claimed him off waivers last month and sent him to the Storm Chasers, with whom he's hit .258 (16-for-62) with two homers and seven RBIs in 19 games.
Up and down: LHP Martin Perez has bounced back and forth between Round Rock and Texas of late, but has managed to pitch well at both levels. Back with the Express on Saturday, he went five innings, allowing two runs on four hits and four walks. It was good enough for a win, but Tucson rallied to force extra innings and pulled out a 10-6 triumph on Matt Clark's grand slam in the 10th.
Bee ready: Salt Lake IF Ed Lucas has seen a surge in playing time since SS Andrew Romine was called up by the Angels. Playing mostly at shortstop, Lucas has made the most of his opportunity, batting .378 (14-for-37) with a homer and three RBIs in his last 10 games through Saturday's 6-4 win over New Orleans. He's hit .262 with eight homers and 38 RBIs overall as a super utility player for the Bees.