PORT CHARLOTTE — After spending 17 seasons in the majors, pitching for nine different teams (two twice), being released seven times, shuttling between starting and relieving, bouncing between the majors and minors and wondering more than a few times if he was done, Jamey Wright has just about seen it all. Except for one thing: the postseason. And that is why, more than anything, the 38-year-old packed up and left his wife and three children in Dallas again and headed off, this time to Rays camp in Port Charlotte, to try once again to live out the scene he has imagined in his head, oh, pretty much every day for the past 30 years.
"That's the reason why I play," Wright said. "That's the reason why I say goodbye to my family and why there's crying and bawling, and it's just the saddest thing ever. But that's why I do it.
"My wife and I have talked, and she said it best, that you've been blessed to be able to do this for your job, your career. She understands. But there's the one driving factor — getting that opportunity to pitch in the playoffs and on that biggest stage.
"And I still, with all my heart, believe it's going to happen."
Wright just missed last year, a key reliever on a Dodgers team that was eliminated from wild-card contention with two days left to play. "As close as I ever came, and it was devastating," he said.
He was an inactive member of the 2002 Cardinals team that beat Arizona then was eliminated by San Francisco in the NL Championship Series. "That definitely does not count," he said.
Nor does the 1995 Double-A playoff game, or the march to a third-place finish in the 1993 Oklahoma state high school tournament, or the three Little League championships.
Wright wants to pitch in a big-league playoff game.
"I've dreamed about it ever since I was 7 years old," he said. "I know exactly how it's going to feel. And I just want to feel it and have it not be a dream."
Wright is one of only three players the last 30-plus years to play this long without getting to the postseason. Part of the reason, a big part, that he signed with the Rays was the chance to end that drought. And though he took a minor-league deal, as he has the past seven seasons, at this point he is only interested in a major-league opportunity, which he should have with the Rays.
Wright started his pro career as the Rockies' first-pound pick in 1993 — for reference, there are five Rays on the spring roster born in 1990-91 — and made his big-league debut in 1996. While many of those Colorado teammates are long retired — such as Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks, Vinny Castilla — Wright is still playing.
"I was by far the youngest guy on that team; I was 21 years old when I broke in," he said. "Now I'm the oldest guy in this camp. … It's gone by so fast."
Wright has had to make some concessions to age, primarily dropping his opposition and accepting the switch to a full-time relief role during the 2007 season. Secondly, getting very good at it, with his ability to get ground-ball outs a major attraction for the Rays, who could use him in an early-and-often role.
"The last couple of years I've felt as good as I've ever felt and thrown as well as I've ever thrown," he said.
Wright — who offers unsolicited that a reason for his good health is that "I've never taken steroids" — said that as of now he plans to keep playing as long as he can. There is, though, one scenario that could lead him to stay home with Marnie, 9-yearold daughter Presley Kile (named after former teammate Darryl Kile) and sons Jett Alan (6) and Kingston Cash (4½).
"The only way it would be my last year would be if we won the World Series," he said. "Then I would beg my wife to let me come back for one more year, but if she said no, I would probably be okay with it."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]