"I wasn't the same," he says. "When I came back from surgery in 2009, it was really rough. Just a terrible year. I'd rear back to throw, and it just wasn't there."

On the other hand, San Francisco was a great place to enjoy a winning clubhouse and throw himself into a vibrant craft brewing scene. Ray signed with the Seattle Mariners the following year, moving to another city full of great beer. By then, he and his brother had begun talking seriously about turning their hobby into a business.

Matt Lincecum, the founder of Fremont Brewing, was certainly skeptical when this ballplayer showed up, pitching him the idea of collaborating on a charity beer.

"Honestly, we don't do that," Lincecum says. "We don't work with other people, and we don't do gimmicky stuff."

But Ray impressed the Fremont staff with his knowledge of brewing and impressed them even more with the quality of his home-brewed samples.

"He was really into beer," Lincecum says. "This was not just some ballplayer who wanted to play around at a brewery."

The men shared an interest in helping military families and a commitment to donating all the proceeds. So a partnership was born, along with the clever hook of aging the beer on maple bats donated by Louisville Slugger.

"Whether the bats impart flavor is up to the person drinking it," Ray says. "But it makes for a great story."

'He's happier deep down'

The first batch of Homefront IPA came out on the last day Ray pitched in a major league game. "So it was kind of like fate," he says.

Ray gave baseball another go in 2012, pitching in the minors for the Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics organizations. All the bus travel was tough for a guy who had pitched six seasons in the majors. He had to pop Advil to deal with shoulder soreness that never really went away.

Meanwhile, he and Phil found an old newspaper printing plant north of Richmond that offered enough space for their fermenting tanks. Phil gave up his stable engineering job to move to Ashland. They hired an experienced brewer, Mike Killelea, to take their home recipes to a commercial scale.

Oakland released Ray in July, but with the brewery set to open in the fall and a second child on the way in December, he never had much time or inclination to mourn his career. In fact, he loved being a pure fan for the first time since he was a kid, rooting for the Orioles in the playoffs.

"There were a lot of years where that clubhouse was kind of miserable," he says. "I got to see in Texas and San Francisco how much fun it is when you're winning, so I was just really, really happy for those guys."

The brewery debuted with three main flavors — Ray Ray's Pale Ale, Main St. Virginia Ale and Pocahoptas IPA — all sold around the Richmond area. The Ray brothers get a thrill when they're having dinner in a restaurant and look over to see their tap handle on the bar. They plan to obtain an interstate license so their beers can be sold in Maryland and other surrounding states.

"He and Phil have good heads for business, but ultimately, people have to like your beer," Lincecum says. "They send us samples whenever they can, and we're a pretty critical group when it comes to beer. But theirs is really good."

Ray gets to be home every night with his wife, Alice, and his kids, 2-year-old Virginia and 6-month-old Thomas.

"I think he's happier deep down," his brother says. "Every day is fun. Even when everything possible goes wrong, we're still making beer. We get to sit in our tasting room at the end of the day and have a beer."

Says Ray: "I can't be upset about anything. I got to play professional baseball for six years, which is not something a lot of people get to say. And now, I feel like I'm doing my hobby for a living."

childs.walker@baltsun.com