Nothing has ever come easily to Kerry Ligtenberg in baseball. In the early 1990s, he made the University of Minnesota baseball team as a walk-on. There were no major league scouts beating down his door, so he graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and kept his baseball dream alive by catching on with the Minneapolis Loons of the now-defunct Prairie League in 1994. The Mariners purchased his contract during the players' strike the next Spring, but released him four days later. Those four days as a replacement player would cost him membership in the players' union. He went back to the Loons and went 11-2 with a no-hitter, but was ready to call it quits until the Braves signed him in January of 1996. He pitched well and quickly moved through the farm system, getting the call to the bigs the following August. By 1998, Kerry was the Braves' closer, saving 30 games and posting a solid 2.71 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. But the next spring, he injured his elbow and missed the whole season with Tommy John surgery.
Ligtenberg bounced back in 2000; though he lost his ninth-inning role, he compiled a 3.21 ERA with Atlanta and Baltimore. He moved on to Toronto in 2004 and was awful (1-6, 6.38), and seven even worse outings in Arizona in 2005 spelled the end of his major league career. He pitched two seasons at AAA and finally seemed through with baseball after a knee injury cut short his Spring Training stint in Cincinnati in 2007. He started looking into work as a financial planner.
But Kerry Ligtenberg is back, in a manner of speaking. Now nine days short of his 38th birthday, the righty is making a run at the ninth-inning job for the St. Paul Saints, one of the better-known independent baseball clubs. He hit his spots and showed good movement during a 10-minute live session earlier this week, and got the invite to camp. Kerry summed it up pretty well:
"I might be old and gray," Ligtenberg said. "But I still love to play."