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On the Road: Capps on the comeback trail

Major League veteran, now older and wiser, enjoying his time in Reno
August 17, 2016

Matt Capps hasn't pitched in the Major Leagues since 2012, when he was a member of the Minnesota Twins. Since then he's been signed and released by two organizations while dealing with chronic shoulder pain that eventually led to surgery.

Despite all that, Capps isn't done yet. Signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks this past February, he's now pitching with the Triple-A Reno Aces.

"I'm very proud of what I've done at the Major League level, at the Minor League level and the career I've had," said Capps, a burly right-hander who appeared in 444 games and notched 138 saves while pitching for the Pirates, Nationals and Twins. "But I don't know. I don't know how to explain it. It just doesn't feel complete yet. If it is, it is. But on my own I just feel like I have something left to give. I don't know why."

That nagging and not totally identifiable feeling of wanting something more from an endeavor the outside world had long considered over, to the extent it had been considered at all, is why Capps is suiting up for Reno this season.

Reno is like all Triple-A locales: So close and yet so far away. Capps, like all of his teammates, is just a phone call removed from "The Show" and its attendant luxuries. In the meantime, he's playing for comparatively minuscule crowds and not even remotely comparable money while traveling the deceptively vast Pacific Coast League circuit via grueling bus rides and even more grueling commercial flights.

So why would Capps, 32 years old with two kids at home and big league money in the bank, put himself through this? I spoke with him prior to Aug. 8's ballgame at Reno's Greater Nevada Field, and it all came back to that feeling that there was indeed something left to give. So why sell himself short?

"It's there. I feel good -- my body, my shoulder - for the first time since, gosh, early 2012," said Capps, who has a 5.18 ERA over 32 appearances with the Aces. "For this being the first time I've really pitched since 2012, I feel like I'm holding my own and competing fairly well and I'm excited to see what happens at the end of this year. If nothing happens at the end of this year with opportunities, I'm excited to see what doors open for next year, with a full offseason to heal, to collect everything, gather everything back up and see what I can do with a full season after a normal offseason. I haven't had one of those since 2011."

After spending 2012 with Minnesota, Capps signed with Cleveland but only appeared in six games with Triple-A Columbus in 2013 and four with the team's Arizona League affiliate in 2014. He spent 2015 Spring Training with the Braves but was released before appearing in any regular season games at any level. Capps remained in the Atlanta area -- he's a native of nearby Douglasville, Georgia -- where he worked as a volunteer youth coach.

"I enjoy the coaching side and that aspect of the game and giving back, if you will," he said. "So the story is, I was throwing with a couple of kids. One of them is a pitching prospect. He's at Georgia Tech now -- Jonathan Hughes, but we call him John Boy because I'm from the sticks in Georgia. He throws hard, mid-90s, and I was playing catch with him and keeping up with him and, more importantly, waking up the next day and still feeling good -- being able to do it again the next day."

Capps' all-out throwing sessions with "John Boy" -- and a follow-up date with a radar gun to make sure he wasn't deceiving himself -- led to him getting in touch with his agent. He subsequently received an opportunity to play winter ball and did well enough there for the D-backs to, as he puts it, "take a flier on him."

Matt Capps last appeared in the Majors in 2012 with the Minnesota Twins. (Al Behrman/AP)

So here Capps is in Reno, saying he's just happy to be here and looking like he really means it.

"We've got a great group of guys," he said. "It's fun. There's no invincible guy here. Guys are cutting up on each other, having fun. I mean, we've got a group text, 30 guys on it and you never know who's gonna get made fun of or who's gonna get picked on. An easy-going, laid-back group but when the lights go on, guys show up to play. I don't know how to explain it. This is the first time I've spent a whole lot of significant time in Triple-A, so I don't know what it's supposed to be like. But I've certainly enjoyed myself this summer and don't see that changing over the next month before the season ends here."

And while Capps' has his own goals in mind, regarding a career that "doesn't yet feel complete," he also enjoys being a source of support for his younger, less experienced teammates.

"I just try to be me," he said. "I try to be as transparent as I can about everything about me -- my life, my career, what I've done on the field good and what I've done on the field bad. And I'm the same off the field, trying to be open and approachable so that guys know if they have a question or if they want to know what something's like they can ask me. We can talk about it. It can be a conversation. I'm not gonna shy away from my failures and I'll tell you straight up I'd do a few things different if I could."

Namely, don't take anything for granted, and appreciate the moment.

"If I could go back, probably the biggest thing is I'd take more time to sit back and soak it all in, because you never know when your last day is gonna be," he said. "It happens to all of us at some point in time and just a select few are able to go out when they're ready to go out. So when the opportunity does present itself and you get the chance to be there, make sure you appreciate it a little more. If I could go back I'd slow the world down and look at what I was doing and not take it so seriously all the time."

Armed with this hard-won perspective, Capps is determined to enjoy his current, somewhat improbable run as a professional baseball player.

"You take the good with the bad and -- what's the best way to put it? When the bad is too much to where you can't enjoy the good then it's time to do something else. Does that sound right?"

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.