On back stretch of career, Francis appreciative
Journeyman left-hander still hopes to contribute after playing for several teams
In the midst of the Colorado Rockies' battle for a postseason berth in 2007, then-Rockies manager Clint Hurdle was assessing left-hander Jeff Francis, and he offered up the idea that Francis is "a human lava lamp. He just goes with the flow."
Those days of being the go-to guy in the Rockies' rotation -- the pitcher who got the nod to start Game 1 in the National League Division Series, the NL Championship Series and the World Series that October -- are long gone, but Francis is still going with the flow, accepting the opportunity that baseball offers and making the most of it.
Francis has become a baseball vagabond, and he has no regrets.
"It's still exciting to compete," said Francis, now the long reliever in Oakland's bullpen. "The role I have may have changed, but the competition with the hitter is still there."
A decade ago, Francis was a baseball phenom. Signed by Colorado as the ninth player selected in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, he was in the big leagues slightly more than two years later and was a fixture in the Rockies' rotation by 2005.
Three years later, the challenges began. Shoulder problems sidelined Francis, and the traveling began. In the last five years, Francis has gone from Colorado to Kansas City to Cincinnati, to the Rockies (again) to the Reds (again) and then to the A's, who claimed Francis on waivers May 18 to fill out their pitching staff.
And he's still there.
Francis even earned the save in Oakland's 7-6, 14-inning victory on Saturday. The eighth pitcher to appear for the A's, he got the call after Jim Johnson, in his third inning of work, loaded the bases. Two batters later, and Francis had made good on the first save opportunity he had been given in his 332nd professional appearance -- the 236th in the big leagues.
"Believe me, I evaluate things often," Francis said. "There was a time last year where I didn't know if I wanted to play anymore. When the season ended, I knew I wanted to come back."
Francis wanted to come back enough that he never hesitated taking a Minor League deal with the Reds, and he accepted a season-opening assignment to Cincinnati's Triple-A affiliate at Louisville. The Reds called him up for a spot start on May 15, and then they were surprised when they tried to send him back to Louisville and the A's made the waiver claim.
"I've worked my whole life to be here," Francis said. "I don't feel a demotion to Triple-A is reason to quit."
Now, understand, Francis is not the typical baseball journeyman. He majored in physics at the University of British Columbia. Francis toyed with the idea of being an astronaut in his younger days, but at 6-foot-5, he was a tad too tall, so he considered becoming a rocket scientist.
And when Francis was a member of the Futures Game portion of baseball's 2004 All-Star Game in Houston, his brother, who is a rocket scientist in their native Canada, picked Francis up at the airport, and before even checking in for the game, they headed to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Space Center.
"We wanted to see what they would allow the general public see," Francis explained.
Now, Francis just wants a chance to prove he can still contribute to a big league pitching staff. He knows his career is tenuous.
Francis, his wife, Allison, and their two children lived in a hotel room in the Bay Area for nearly a month after Francis joined the A's before finally committing to rent a home for the rest of the season.
"We've got two homes [in Denver and London, Ontario], and the fact she was here with me, and the two little kids, living out of a hotel says a lot about the support I have at home," he said.
But then Francis said he's always had a strong support base at home in his pursuit of baseball.
Yes, he grew up in hockey-happy Canada, and his grandfather gave him the nickname "Boomer" after Montreal Canadiens legend Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, but, Francis explains, "my family was always full of baseball fans.
"Baseball was the No. 1 sport for my dad. I grew up with baseball. The springtime was always exciting, because it was baseball season. I was a good player, not just a pitcher. I played first base. When you are good at something, you are going to like it."
And even now, at the age of 33, on the back side of a once-promising career, Francis still finds the chance to play baseball to have a special allure.