Meek reflective on All-Star journey
Despite rough road, Bucs reliever never lost faith in ability
ANAHEIM -- Surrounded by the game's best, Evan Meek said it was all beginning to sink in.
The All-Star invitation. The circuitous journey that brought him here. The feeling that he was worthy to be among such notable company.
Still, as Meek spoke to reporters on Monday afternoon, there were plenty of reminders that this was, indeed, a first-time experience.
Sitting on a desk in front of him was his video camera, which Meek will use to document Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby. And from time to time, the Pirates' right-hander would pause from giving a response, look around and grin, obviously still shaking off some of the awe.
"I don't know what to expect," Meek said at one point. "I don't know how to act. It's overwhelming."
It might seem a bit odd, then, that even two years ago, at one of his career's most crucial crossroads, Meek knew that this is exactly where he belonged. And in many ways, that's where this road to the All-Star Game began.
As bad as things got for Meek in April 2008, he never second-guessed his ability. Not when he allowed 10 earned runs and 12 walks in his first 13 big league innings. Not when the Pirates decided the Rule 5 experiment had to end and designated Meek for assignment on May 4. Not when he wondered what organization he'd be with by the following week.
"There was never a doubt in my mind that I couldn't pitch here," Meek said, looking back on that crossroads. "I was terrible, but I struck out Alfonso Soriano. I struck out Derrek Lee. I struck out all of these good players. All the walks, all the hits, those didn't come into my head. All I saw was that I could strike those guys -- some of the best guys in the game -- out. I knew I had success.
"I kept that in my head when I went back down," he continued. "I took all the negative -- and there was a lot of it -- and tried to replace it with a positive. The only positive that I could find was, 'Look who I struck out.'"
Meek might have the chance to strike out more All-Stars on Tuesday, if National League manager Charlie Manuel decides to go to him in relief. If so, that would certainly bring things full circle for the late-inning reliever, whose All-Star selection is a byproduct of an '08 season that set him on this course.
As Meek put it: "Thinking back on it, I've realized it's all part of it. Everything happened for a reason."
At the time, though, it was all hardly a part of his plan. After making the Pirates' Opening Day roster, Meek never envisioned that he'd be back in Double-A just a little more than a month later. But when the Major League experiment didn't work, that's exactly where general manager Neal Huntington sent Meek.
The reasoning was simple: Put Meek back at a level where he can dominate because that would breed success. Meek, his viewpoint stubbornly narrow, hardly saw it that way.
"At first, the decision to send me to Double-A, I was upset about it," Meek said. "But now I know it was absolutely the best decision."
As expected, Meek dominated in Double-A. He then moved to Triple-A quickly. There, the right-hander continued to roll, finishing with a 2.40 ERA in 23 appearances. After a successful stint closing in the Mexican Winter League that offseason, Meek was back on the big league radar.
He had a successful rookie season in 2009 -- finishing with a 3.45 ERA in 41 appearances -- and parlayed that into a spot in the back end of manager John Russell's bullpen this year.
"He came back last year and was really a different guy," Russell said, shortly before Meek left for Anaheim. "The biggest thing with Evan is confidence and knowing that he could go out there and pitch. I think confidence is really what's put him over the hump. He really believes in himself. He believes in his arm. You see it each time he goes out."
Still, no one could have predicted how dominant Meek would be in what is set to be his first full season in the Majors. His 1.11 ERA at the time of the All-Star break was the lowest of all National League relievers.
"It has happened so quickly," Meek said. "Everything happens for a reason. It's really cliché to say that, but it's true. Who's to say this would have happened if Neal would have sent me to Triple-A instead of Double-A? Maybe I wouldn't have gotten back to where I needed to be. Maybe I would have continued to struggle and continued to go downhill."
And what kept him going through it all?
"I love baseball, and I had nothing else to do," Meek said. "I didn't know what I'd do if I didn't play baseball. Some guys are just blessed. For some, it's just a little more difficult."
Meek has been especially reflective of this journey since learning just over a week ago that he'd be participating in his first All-Star Game. Though by Monday, reflection had turned mostly to enthusiasm.
With his parents and four siblings soaking in the All-Star invitation with him, Meek was ready to embrace the entire experience. That includes taking his front-row seat for Monday's Derby and then trying to control his nerves if he gets an opportunity to pitch on Tuesday.
"Whoever it is, I'll get him out," Meek joked.
Fitting, because that's the one thing Meek always knew he could do.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.