11/02/2009 11:51 AM ET
Paul Bako: Made the right decision
On brink of retirement, backup catcher now in World Series
It's difficult to describe the turn of events I've experienced this year. I had a real good spring with the Cubs -- I thought I was playing well -- but the club decided to keep Koyie Hill instead of me as a backup catcher. So, I took the long drive home from Arizona to Louisiana and began to collect my thoughts. By the time I arrived in Lafayette, I was coming to the realization that that could be it. There were only a couple days left in Spring Training, rosters were set, and I wasn't getting any bites.
That could have been it and, at the time, I was OK with it. I was fortunate to play 10 years in the big leagues and while I'd never made it to the World Series, I'd come close. I'd played on some very good teams and reached the National League Championship Series with both the 2001 Braves and the '03 Cubs.
Then when "Chooch" (Carlos Ruiz) got hurt in April, the Phillies called. They told me they couldn't make any guarantees; they just wanted me to come, get back in shape and see what happens. At that point I was still kind of bitter about being cut by the Cubs, so I was reluctant to stick my neck out again. I told them, "No, thanks, but if you guys ever want me to come play for you in the big leagues, I'd be honored."
But a few weeks later the Phillies called again. They still weren't going to guarantee anything, but by then it was the middle of May and I realized if I didn't say, yes, and see what happens, it would definitely be the end of my career. I debated it for a while, and then one day I just told my wife, Laurie, "Hey, I think I want to do this." I think it caught her by surprise because we had just begun to have some normalcy at home with the kids. Actually, I kind of surprised myself, too. I'd gone from skeptical to thinking, "Let's go do this and see where it leads."
I went to Clearwater for 10 days and got into some sort of playing shape and then I was sent to Double-A Reading. The Phillies had a prospect, Lou Morson, in Triple-A who they wanted to play everyday. I had played every day for about 10 days in Reading when the Phillies called me up. I caught up with the team in New York at Citi Field, and I've been ecstatic ever since.
From the moment I got to New York, everyone treated me like I'd been with them since the first day of Spring Training. I immediately felt welcome, like one of the guys.
Now, being in my first World Series is clearly a dream come true, but what makes it more special is the group of players on our club. Obviously, the talent in our clubhouse speaks for itself but the camaraderie -- the cohesiveness -- makes the whole experience so much better. I couldn't imagine sharing this with a better group of guys.
Hopefully, this will serve as a lesson to my kids, Abbey and Will, one day when they're a little older. Maybe they'll realize that if daddy didn't take that chance, he wouldn't have been in the World Series and had the opportunity to experience all of this. If I knew this was going to happen at the time, it would have been a no-brainer, of course. But, like I said, I still felt the sting of getting let go by the Cubs. It was a gut-wrenching decision.
Paul Bako, 37, has caught for 11 teams in 12 big-league seasons and reached his first World Series this year. He batted .224 with three homers and nine RBIs as a back-up to Carlos Ruiz, and the Phillies were 20-13 in games he started.