In baseball, and in life, Matt Bush is getting another chance.
The first overall pick in the 2004 Draft, Bush was in prison just two months ago. Now he's headed back to the diamond. The 29-year-old has signed a Minor League contract with Texas, according to MLB.com.
On March 22, 2012, then-Rays farmhand Bush was arrested after he allegedly ran over and seriously injured 72-year-old motorcyclist Tony Tufano and left the scene in Port Charlotte, Fla. Bush pleaded no contest to charges of DUI with serious bodily injury and spent the next three years incarcerated before being released on Oct. 30.
While in prison, Bush worked toward turning his life around. Drafted as a shortstop, Bush moved to the mound in 2007, his final year in the Padres system. Three years later, he was given a shot with Tampa Bay, pitching at the Rookie and Class A Advanced levels in 2010 and Double-A in 2011. While in prison, he kept in shape and continued to throw during his work-release program this year. Bush's fastball touched 95 mph in recent bullpen sessions, according to MLB.com's Thomas Harding.
"I've seen quite a few people that were tremendous athletes [in prison]," Bush told Harding. "Some of these guys are extremely gifted -- fast, agile. But they're locked away for a long time.
"Some of them told me, 'We're looking forward to seeing you out there. We can't wait to see you make it.' They helped me feel positive about my situation."
A San Diego product, Bush was one of baseball's top prospects when his hometown Padres took him out of Mission Bay High School with their first selection over a decade ago, but shortly thereafter, the young infielder started running into trouble. Bush battled alcohol abuse from early in his career. At just 18, he was suspended before even playing in his first professional game for his role in a fight outside an Arizona bar just two weeks after he was drafted. Multiple off-field fights and assault incidents allegedly followed while with San Diego and Toronto.
The issues came with their own weight for the Rangers, but did not dissuade the organization. With the encouragement of Roy Silver, a special assistant in Texas' player development department who has worked as a counselor with young people dealing with addiction, the club made the deal a reality.
"I don't know if I have expectations -- the biggest expectations will be off the field," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said on a media conference call Friday. "We'll be able to help Matt see it through if he takes the steps to get his life going in the right direction. Anything beyond that will be a bonus, so to speak."
The contract does not include an invitation to Major League Spring Training and comes with a host of safeguards for both sides.
According to MLB.com, Bush "is required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Daniels said alcohol use and driving -- since Bush's three DUIs in 10 years mean he can't hold a driver's license -- are zero-tolerance issues. Additionally, Bush's father, Danny, must live with him in Spring Training and throughout the season."
Bush turns 30 on Feb. 8, making Double-A Frisco a likely destination for him to begin his 2016 season. In total, the right-hander has pitched in 53 professional games, going 7-3 with a 4.14 ERA and 113 strikeouts with 29 walks in 71 2/3 innings. No matter where he ends up in the spring, the former top pick embraces the responsibility that comes with his next chapter.
"My future is as bright as I make it," he told MLB.com. "I feel renewed after all the time I served and had time to think things through -- the agony of destroying my life and the lives of others."