Now, Wolf and Cotts are two of the top feel-good stories in the majors this year.
“Tremendous stories, the kind that sports seem to deliver every so often,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “Two guys that believed in themselves and refused to give up despite what the doctors or teams said. Sure, we gave them an opportunity, but they put themselves in that position.”
Wolf hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2010 before Wednesday, when he allowed one run in five innings in his first major-league start and picked up his first major-league win. Cotts, though, provided a big assist with two scoreless innings of relief in his second appearance since May 25, 2009.
They took different roads back to baseball’s promised land. Wolf was never injured, just ineffective as a big-league long reliever in 2007 and 2010. Cotts had Tommy John surgery in 2009 and then endured surgery to fix a bad hip labrum and three more surgeries to clear out an infection in the joint.
Wolf could get jobs, albeit in the minors. He was released by the Baltimore organization last year. The Rangers signed him to a minor-league deal and assigned him to Double A.
Cotts had trouble passing physical exams required to get employment, but he kept throwing. The Rangers plucked him in February 2012, and he was headed toward the Opening Day roster before suffering a strained lat muscle.
He couldn’t call it a career without one last try.
“I felt physically I could go out there and perform,” said Cotts, a member of the 2005 Chicago White Sox team that won the World Series. “I wanted to give myself one more shot. If I had come into spring training last year and said, ‘I can’t do this. My leg hurts,’ I would have rather had it end that way than not ever going back out there and never knowing if I went out there what could have happened.”
They also kept on pitching partly because their families stayed behind them. Wolf’s wife was on bed rest last summer ahead of the birth of their second child while he was toiling away in Frisco.
“If it wasn’t for my family backing me up, I wouldn’t be where I’m at,” Wolf said.
Said Cotts, the father of a son: “Even when I was rehabbing my hip, I would go out to the field for a couple hours and go home and be with my family. I’m pretty happy that he actually gets to see me play. He doesn’t remember when I played when he was a little baby.”
Each is a reflection of the quality depth the Rangers have manufactured and leaned on to help keep them in first place the past 34 days. They had a 5 1/2-game lead entering the opener of a three-game series against Seattle late Friday night.
The end of this chapter in Wolf’s story could come within a week, as Alexi Ogando is eligible to come off the disabled list Friday. Wolf said he won’t have any regrets or feel any resentment toward the Rangers if that’s the case.
“That’s out of my control,” he said. “I won’t be disappointed. I didn’t think I was ever going to make it back up here.”
No matter how long it goes, it’s a great story.
“I hope so,” Wolf said. “I want it to be a good story for guys who have been in my shoes. I got a lot of people from my hometown saying it’s a great story for our kids. Hard work pays off.”
So, too, is Cotts’ journey back to the major leagues.
“Those guys deserve a lot of credit for sticking with it and getting it done and continuing to chase their dream and have it come true,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “Those guys both have families. I understand how hard it is to be in the minor leagues when you’re not making a lot of money. But they did it, and now they’re both back. I’m happy for them.”