02/28/2006 2:00 PM ET
Standridge in running for 'pen spot
Reds right-hander put together strong second half in 2005
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- At times, through some topsy-turvy years, Jason Standridge has allowed himself to wonder what it might have been like if he had accepted a scholarship offer to play quarterback for Auburn University.
Jordan-Hare Stadium. Eighty thousands fans in a frenzy on crisp fall Saturday afternoons deep in the heart of Southeastern Conference football country. Alabama kids grow up dreaming about playing in that atmosphere and Standridge was no different.
But Standridge had another athletic talent, courtesy of his powerful right arm. College football or professional baseball? Standridge chose the latter in 1997 and, after several years of ups and downs in the baseball world, it's a decision that's looking good.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander signed a Minor League contract with the Reds on July 1 last summer and it didn't take long for him to feel that he had landed in the right place at the right time. Standridge wound up appearing in 32 games as a trusted member of manager Jerry Narron's bullpen. He finished 2-2 with a 4.06 ERA, including a 0.53 ERA in his first 15 appearances.
Not bad for a guy who had been in the Rangers' organization and rejected an outright assignment to the Minor Leagues shortly before Cincinnati came calling.
"When I was designated for assignment by Texas, I had an initial feeling of, 'What am I going to do now?' But as it turned out, getting over here to Cincinnati was the best thing that could have happened to me," Standridge said. "Once I started getting in games for the Reds, I just made up my mind that I did belong in the Major Leagues. My confidence level took off."
After turning in some dazzling work over that 15-game stretch, Standridge leveled off with a rocky three weeks in August. But he finished strong in September to lay some groundwork for 2006.
Now, Standridge finds himself right in the mix for a bullpen role on this year's club. At 27, he's in position to fully capitalize on all the work he has put in since becoming a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (31st overall) in the 1997 draft.
"The fact that I was used so consistently last year really allowed me to get into a rhythm," Standridge said. "I just have to take the good things that happened last year and build on that for the coming season."
Cincinnati catcher Jason LaRue believes Standridge has what it takes to further establish himself as a Major League reliever.
"During that good stretch last year, he showed that he could keep the ball down and throw his off-speed pitches behind in the count," LaRue said. "It's an ongoing process, but I'm confident he'll do all the things necessary to take that next step this season."
Standridge has shown he can handle adversity. In his first year in pro ball, he didn't win a game. He rode the shuttle in the Tampa Bay system, getting four brief stints with the big league club from 2001 to 2004. But his role was never clearly established.
Last year, the Devil Rays and Standridge finally parted ways and Standridge went to work re-establishing himself in the Texas system before hooking on with Cincinnati. The Reds needed pitching and Standridge needed the Reds.
As he sets up shop in a corner locker next to Brandon Claussen, Standridge can take comfort in the knowledge that he has a Cincinnati track record. But not too much comfort.
"You have to prove yourself every year," Standridge said. "I know the opportunity is here for me if I perform the way I know I can. I'm just going to keep going out there and trusting my stuff."
The beauty of signing out of high school is that you've got ample time to navigate through baseball's obstacle course. After nine years, Standridge is still young enough to have a lengthy Major League career if he uses the second half of 2005 as a springboard.
Had he gone to Auburn, Standridge might have eventually become an NFL quarterback. But there would have been lots of aches and pains and no guarantees.
"I still like watching football, but I love the career I've got," Standridge said.