Chad Cordero always figured he'd stand on the mound at Nationals Park in 2012 and fire a pitch toward the plate. He just never figured he'd do it wearing shorts and flip-flops, nor that he'd do it 10 minutes before the actual first pitch of a game was thrown.
"It's just kind of weird to put on a Nationals jersey in general," Cordero said with a laugh this afternoon. "I never thought I'd be able to come back here and throw out a first pitch. It's cool. It's unbelievable."
Four years removed from his last in-game appearance at Nationals Park and a year removed from his retirement announcement, Cordero was back in D.C. tonight, honored by his former team before it played the Braves.
Still the Nationals' all-time leader (by leaps and bounds) with 113 career saves, Cordero's career came to a screeching halt in April 2008 when he tore the labrum in his right shoulder. Not tendered a contract by former general manager Jim Bowden following the season, the reliever did recover and return to the big leagues with the Mariners in 2010, but made only nine appearances.
After a failed attempt to make another comeback with the Blue Jays last season, Cordero decided to call it a career. He wanted to spend more time with his wife, Jamie, and their children, especially after the couple lost daughter Tehya to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 2010.
But a few months ago, Cordero (still only 30) admittedly got "the itch" to return to the mound. He's since lost 40 pounds and worked his arm back into shape. His plan: Play winter ball and hope to sign on with a professional organization for next spring.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get back up here," he said. "I'm willing to start off at Double-A, Triple-A. Even if I have to go to independent ball just to prove I can pitch again, I'm going to do whatever it takes to hopefully one day make it back to the big leagues and stick again."
Cordero still closely follows and roots for the organization that made him a first-round draft pick in 2003 and gave him the opportunity to save a franchise-record 47 games only two years later.
Which is why he couldn't wait to pull a flat-brimmed, red curly W cap over his eyes this evening, walk to the mound, wave to a crowd that cheered and chanted his nickname "Chief" and then throw out the ceremonial first pitch to reliever Drew Storen.
"I still have a connection here, and I want to see them succeed," he said. "I try to follow them as much as possible. I still love it here. The Nationals were my family for four years, and you can't just cut ties with your family."