By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun
7:00 PM EST, February 20, 2013
SARASOTA. Fla. — Jason Pridie will be the first to admit his mistake.
The 29-year-old outfielder has spent most of the past six years on the cusp of finding a home in the big leagues — his life-long dream just within reach.
But around this time last season, Pridie's very public miscue had him worried that he might have handed himself a career-crippling sentence into baseball purgatory.
Last March, Pridie was fighting for a roster spot in Oakland Athletics' spring training camp when he received a 50-game suspension for a second failed test for a recreational drug — a "drug of habit" as Major League Baseball calls it. First failed tests are kept confidential.
For the first time in his career, baseball was truly taken away. He had had numerous injuries before — Pridie's reputation is one of a hard-nosed player unafraid of testing his physical limits — but unlike past trips to the disabled list, the suspension had him wondering about his baseball future.
"It can be taken away that quick," said Pridie, who didn't want to comment on the specific drug that led to the positive test. "When it's an injury it's different. If its something you could have prevented, then it hurts a little more because you're sitting there thinking you could have done something about it. I could have done something. It wasn't me playing hard and going out there and playing hard and trying to stretch a double into a trouble and getting hurt.
"I made a stupid decision."
Now, Pridie is in Orioles camp as a non-roster invitee. Signed to a minor league deal in November, this is Pridie's seventh major league spring training camp, and he is hoping to stick in an organization that has successfully offered opportunities to discarded players under executive vice president Dan Duquette.
"We thought he was worth taking a shot at," Duquette said. "People deserve second chances, right? Where I come from, people deserve second chances."
When Pridie, a second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2002, failed the test last year, he was coming off his most extensive big league season. He played in 101 games for the New York Mets in 2011, and even though the Mets released him that offseason, the A's signed him to a minor league deal.
But take that 2011 season out and he hasn't played more than 10 games in any major league season, spending most of the last six years playing in the Triple-A International League. He owns a career .276/.317/.428 line in Triple-A.
If the timing of last year's failed test was bad, the regret Pridie said he felt during the suspension was worse.
He had just married his longtime girlfriend Bianca, a former softball player at Arizona State, four months earlier, and the couple was expecting their first child in June.
"I really had to grow up in the sense that I had a wife and a baby on the way," Pridie said. "That was a reality check. Everybody's got to grow up at some point. For me, it took until then to realize that maybe there's more to life than doing this or doing that.
"I had to realize I have a family now," Pridie added. "It's not just about me. I can't just do what I want when I want whatever. I have to come home to my wife and my kid and at the end of the day they're who I'm accountable for. My decisions affect their lives."
In mid-June — once the suspension ended and the A's released Pridie — he signed a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Around that time, his son, Knox, was born.
Pridie soon found himself in Philadelphia after Jim Thome was traded to the Orioles, presenting a need for a left-handed bat. His stay lasted just nine games before he was back in Triple-A, where he finished the season.
Pridie was concerned that last year's positive drug test would follow him into the offseason, but the Orioles — looking for outfield depth — saw a player with speed and a good arm who could play all three outfield positions, and they offered him a minor league contract quickly. Last season, Pridie recorded an impressive .298/.356/.455 line at Triple-A.
"He's a good player," said Triple-A Norfolk manager Ron Johnson, who has seen Pridie play for several years as a Triple-A skipper with the Orioles and Red Sox organizations. "He knows how to play the game. He's a tough player. It's easy to see why you acquire a guy like him. He's a guy who's always going to find a way to help you no matter where he plays."
Here in Orioles camp, Pridie is one of 13 players on the spring training roster with outfield experience, so he's a long shot to make the 25-man Opening Day roster. Still, as Grapefruit League games begin Saturday, Pridie has already impressed some in the Orioles organization.
"He already has," manager Buck Showalter said. "There's a calmness to him. He's got a plan. He's got a good approach. You can see he's a confident hitter. He's not out here trying to show [off] and get everybody's attention as far as trying to pull every ball as far as he can. ...
"He's got a program. He keeps the bat in the zone a long time. … There some people who have coveted his services. I think he's a good option for us."
Pridie realizes his season might start in Triple-A again. But considering where he was last spring, he's just grateful to have baseball again.
"You learn from your mistakes and you move on," Pridie said. "I'm sure that some teams said, 'Let's not do it,' because of this or that but everyone is human. Everyone makes mistakes. It's just that some people's mistakes are more public, and in this business they're more public, so you just move forward.
"It was a very hard part of my life," Pridie added. "But I think I've moved passed it and I don't really think about it anymore because you can't dwell on the past. I have an opportunity here."
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun