Camden Courier-Post - April 7, 1980

Wright gets blessing from days of anguish


By Ray W. Kelly of the Courier-Post


CLEARWATER, Fla. – When times got so hard that his tears stained the clubhouse floor, Jim Wright thought a lot about God.


How ironic that on Easter Sunday, the Phillies' pitching prospect would look back on the anguish of one of those painful afternoons and see it as a blessing.


"I'm not what you'd call a real religious person," said the tall righthander. "I've always kept God... well, inside me.


"And maybe that's what kept me going... just reminding myself that the Lord works in mysterious ways."


Jim pitched six wondrous innings of baseball yesterday for Oklahoma City during a two-bit performance against the minor league camp All-Stars. (The 89ers won 3-2.) It was more like a homecoming for the big guy. Some people might call it a miracle.


Not since August of 1977, when the most promising arm in the Phillies' system began to ache, have people dared to think that the young man's dream of a life in the major leagues would come true.


Yet, hope found Jim yesterday. It found him healthy and so joyously effective that those who witnessed his performance couldn't help but toy with a delightful notion.


Wouldn't it be something if the new faces on the Phils' pitching staff this season became the one to put the team over the top?


Dickie Noles just got his feet wet in the big time last season. And Scott Munninghoff had been kept under wraps because he was only 21 years old. Until Nino Espinosa got a sore shoulder, holding Munninghoff back for more seasoning seemed the logical thing to do.


The men who know pitching, however, whisper that the Cincinnati Kid has the same kind of natural sinkerball that made Warren Brusstar one of the most respected relief pitchers in the National League. His fastball is even better than Brusstar's.


If Noles and Munninghoff could hold the fort until Wright regained his pitching form and was brought in from Oklahoma City...


"I don't want to think that far ahead," said Wright with a smile. "I've had too many letdowns for me to start getting overly optimistic.


"All I want to do right now is to feel good about what happened out there on the mound today. The last three years have been pretty rough. But now, I'm beginning to feel like a baseball player again."


Somehow it all seemed like a bad dream, one that had come at a time when only good things were coming Jim's way.


He had married the most beautiful girl in the world. At Oklahoma City, Jim was burning up the league. In a month, he'd be moving up to the big club. No one doubted that for a moment.


"I guess I started asking myself... why, why me? Yeah, it was when my dad died. He was only 38-years old that year. And, I guess I never really got over that,” recalled Jim.


"We had our first baby, James Lee, in May of 1977. A month later, my arm began to hurt."


By August, Jim couldn't pitch because of the pain in his right forearm.


"I didn't know what it was at the time," be said. "It turned out to be a rare kind of tumor. To get one on the forearm was almost unheard of."


The tumor was taken out of his arm, leaving behind a "soft spot" that didn't heal like a broken bone. Those who were there last spring will never forget the sight and sound of Jim's comeback performances at Jack Russell Stadium when he threw a pitch and his arm snapped like a tree limb.


So many tears... for his father, for awful luck, for his career that seemed to be ending and or the future of two small children whose father didn't know how he was going to make a living.


"The only thing I could hold onto was the belief that God was somehow testing me," he said. "When everything told me it was over, I thought of when I was a littie kid. And how I felt in my heart that one day I'd pitch in the major leagues.


"That day I broke my arm out there on that very same mound, it was terrible.


"Yet, looking back, the break forced my arm to heal properly. And it gave it the rest it needed. Now, I'm a pitcher again.


"I didn't know it then. But that day was a blessing."


Happy Easter.