The Texas Rangers have signed former No. 1 draft pick Matt Bush to a minor league deal, less than two months after he was released from prison.
Bush was released from prison in Florida on Oct. 30 after serving 51 months (which includes time served awaiting trial) for a third arrest on charges of driving under the influence. The arrest came after he nearly killed a man on a motorcycle.
Much as they did with Josh Hamilton, who missed three seasons because of alcohol and drug-addiction issues, the Rangers hope a second chance will help Bush put his life back together and live up to his former promise.
Before, it was really hard to know whether I’d get a chance or not. I wasn’t in contact with people in baseball. But I wanted to play baseball again.
Matt Bush, who signed a minor-league deal with the Rangers
Bush turns 30 on Feb. 8.
Rangers minor league coach Roy Silver, who helped in Hamilton’s recovery, has known Bush since he was one of the country’s top prospects, before legal troubles derailed his career.
“In Roy’s opinion [he] had really taken some strong steps in the right direction,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “He saw something in Matt that was worthwhile to invest in and help.”
Bush finished his sentence much of the past year in a work-release program. He was drafted No. 1 overall in 2004 by the Padres as a shortstop and pitcher out of Mission Bay High School, which is less than 10 miles from Petco Park in downtown San Diego. The Padres switched him to pitching in 2007, but Tommy John surgery cut that season short and kept him off the field in 2008, too.
The Rangers recently saw Bush throw a bullpen session at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Daniels said Bush’s velocity was in the mid-90s.
At Double A in 2011, Bush struck out 77 and had a 4.83 ERA in 50 1/3 innings.
The Rangers expect Bush to earn a spot as a minor leaguer in spring training. The deal doesn’t include an invite to major league camp, Daniels said.
In March 2012, Bush struck 72-year-old Tony Tufano’s motorcycle and left the scene, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Bush’s blood-alcohol level was 0.18 percent, more than double what is considered impaired. Tufano was in intensive care for several weeks with a collapsed lung, brain hemorrhage and several broken bones, according to reports. Later, the victim told the paper he had forgiven Bush.
Bush says he’s been sober since the wreck and figured his baseball career was over.
“I didn’t really pay attention to the baseball world for a while because it was too hard for me,” said Bush, who spent most of his prison time at Hamilton Correctional Institution in Jasper, Fla. He engrossed himself in books and exercise to pass the time and eventually enjoyed playing softball behind bars. When he was able to begin a work-release program earlier this year he threw a baseball for the first time in a couple of years.
I feel like my future is as bright as I make it. I have to dial in each day mentally, spiritually and physically.
“It was hard to find a throwing opportunity but once I did my arm progressed a lot more and just kept in the back of my mind that somehow, some way, God willing, I’d get an opportunity,” he said. “I feel like my future is as bright as I make it. I have to dial in each day mentally, spiritually and physically.”
Daniels said the Rangers are prepared to provide Bush the necessary resources to stay sober. They’ll also hold him to strict behavior guidelines.
“There are going to be certain areas where there can’t be any gray area,” Daniels said, which includes no alcohol and no driving. “[We’ll have] zero tolerance there.”
Legally, Bush is now clear and there is no pending suspension by MLB.
He’ll report to spring training on Feb. 1. His father, Danny, will accompany him to spring training and live with him wherever he’s assigned, which likely could be Double A Frisco.
“Being with somebody that loves me and knows my inner issues and who are never going to put me in a position to fail obviously has a tremendous effect on me,” Bush said.
“My dad being able to be with me wherever I go is going to have a tremendous affect on me. It’s going to be a joy not only for him, but for me. We’re going to enjoy the ride together. He’s going to help me out and I’m going to, in turn, help him out by staying the course.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760