Matt Bush was long ago designated as the biggest draft bust in the history of the San Diego Padres.
The No. 1 overall pick in 2004 later bottomed out on a personal level as an incident while driving under the influence led to a 3 1/2-year stint in a Florida prison.
Now age 30, Bush is in the mix to make the Texas Rangers as a reliever.
Bush’s comeback attempt picked up steam on Wednesday when he pitched two hitless innings against the Chicago Cubs during a spring-training contest.
“It was very exciting,” Bush said. “I had thought about it. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a major league spring training game. I was just happy to have the opportunity again.
“Just staying the course and keeping my head straight, so I don’t have to go through the things I used to. It’s day-by-day. There are things I have to take care of each day. I just follow through with that.”
Bush had an opportunity to make the Tampa Bay Rays roster in 2012 when his longstanding issues with alcohol emerged.
He borrowed the truck of teammate Brandon Guyer and went on a drinking binge. He collided with a motorcyclist and nearly killed him and then left the scene.
He later pled no contest to DUI with serious bodily injury to a motorcyclist.
The incident and the ensuing prison sentence appeared to end Bush’s professional baseball career. But when he was released from prison last Oct. 30, he could still throw 97 mph.
The Rangers investigated the situation and signed him in early December. Bush says he has been sober since the accident in 2012.
And then came Wednesday when Bush reverted back to the past with the strong two-inning outing.
“It’s as good as stuff as we’ve seen in camp, not only on our side but both sides,” Texas manager Jeff Banister told reporters. “I’m just telling you what I saw, a 97 mile per hour fastball at the knees, both sides of the plate, a plus breaking ball. He’s going to make it hard to hit. It was fun to watch. He knows how far he’s come and how far he has to go.”
Bush was once a can’t miss prospect out of Mission Bay High in San Diego and the hometown Padres selected him with the first overall pick of the 2004 draft. The plan was for him to one day be the starting shortstop.
It was a draft loaded with top prospects and the Padres passed on shortstop Stephen Drew as well as right-handed pitchers Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander. The Padres opted for the local boy primarily because they didn’t want to deal with agent Scott Boras, the representative for both Weaver and Drew.
As Weaver and Verlander became big-time stars, Bush was struggling both on the off the field. He was arrested in a nightclub incident before even playing in a minor-league game, and there was later an arrest for assaulting two high school lacrosse players.
There were other boorish incidents as well and eventually the Padres traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays.
He quickly wore his welcome out in Toronto as well and was released. He returned to San Diego and was arrested for throwing objects at cars at a shopping mall and crashed his vehicle, which led to a DUI charge.
Eventually, Tampa Bay gave him his “last chance” and that ended with the motorcycle incident.
But Bush has emerged with another opportunity with the Rangers and his teammates are aware of the background and rooting for him to make it.
“That was really special, what a story,” Texas infielder/outfielder Ian Desmond told reporters. “He’s obviously backed himself into some tough situations. It’s kind of the strong survive. I’m happy for him. I told him when he was running in, ‘Have some fun, man. You earned it.’ He’s throwing a 97 mile per hour fastball, backed up by a 79 mile per hour curveball. That’s quite the differential. That plays anywhere.
“I know people are going to say what they want to say, but we all get grace in our lives. I hope this time it works out for him. I’m pulling for him. Coming from the same draft, we all have that bond with guys we get drafted with. I’ve been following his career and rooting for him to bounce back. It’s good to see he’s making steps in the right direction.”
Whether that direction leads to the mound at a big-league stadium could soon be decided.
Banister cautioned that it was just “one outing” and that Bush still has a ways to go.
Bush is just happy he has an opportunity, and when he wonders about the future it is different than it was even 12 months ago.
“I’ve always been gifted and blessed with a strong arm,” Bush said. “It’s a lot of fun for me seeing some of those big hitters swing and miss.
“I wonder what it would be like to throw in a regular-season game.”