Matt Bush And The Road To Recovery

FT. MYERS FL - FEBRUARY 22: Matt Bush #44 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day on February 22 2011 at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte Florida. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Most Rays fans know the story of Matt Bush. The former #1 overall draft pick by the San Diego Padres who signed a 3.15 million dollar contract and within two weeks had his first alcohol related arrest. In the years that followed Bush was unable to hit as a shortstop was converted to a relief pitcher, tore the ligament in his elbow, and continued to have problems with the law.  In 2008, the Padres had grown weary of him and after signing Cliff Floyd they sent him to the Toronto Blue Jays where he was quickly released for violating the teams zero-tolerance policy set in place for him. By 2009, Matt Bush was out of baseball and was involved in yet another alcohol related arrest, this one caught on video, which showed a young man both hitting rock bottom and crying for help at the same time. 

I began researching the background on Matt Bush out of a personal interest for those stories of individuals who can overcome the long odds or the personal demons that follow them through their careers and lives.  What I found was a compilation of events that culminated in the video of a man crying, a man who had lost hope, and a man who didn't know how to reach out for help. Reading how the Rays convinced him to sign with them, how he has handled his sobriety and seeing him pitch and interact with his teammates this spring has made me into one of the biggest Matt Bush supporters around. For those fans like myself,  who have heard the Matt Bush story in bits and pieces, I have presented the details below the jump, along with the infamous arrest video.

Matt Bush, in his brief professional baseball career, has gone through both phases of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

 

"I had a serious off-the-field problem with alcohol, and it got to a point where it was kind of running my life,".... "And I couldn't do the things on the field I had done before when I didn't have such a bad problem. It really got to me emotionally and physically."

 

Matt Bush was the prized local kid drafted #1 overall out of Mission Valley High School by the San Diego Padres in the 2004 draft.  The way the Padres and Bush got together was a unique story in itself. As told by Jim Callis of Baseball America, the Padres were debating between Stephen Drew, Jeff Niemann, and Jered Weaver and even within 6 days prior to the draft, Kevin Towers said his club was leaning heavily toward Drew. Things quickly changed when team owner told GM Kevin Towers that the cost of signing Stephen Drew was too high and to look elsewhere.  Around the same time, Matt Bush called a local scout to alert the Padres of his interest of fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a San Diego Padre. Within days, Bush's advisers (MooradSports Management) had worked out a 3.15 million dollar (a Padres team record) contract which was officially announced after the draft, which was the lowest signing bonus given to any overall pick since 2000 (Adrian Gonzalez with the Marlins). Bush was also the first hometown kid drafted since the Twins took Joe Mauer in 2001 and he was the first shortstop drafted #1 overall since Alex Rodriguez was drafted by the Mariners in 1993. 

Two weeks after being drafted and signing his 3.15 million dollar contract, Bush along with his brother Jeremy were arrested in Maricopa County, Arizona for an incident at a local bar (McDuffy's). Bush was charged with three misdemeanors--disorderly conduct, trespassing and underage consumption of alcohol--and one felony, aggravated assault (which was later dropped). He was also cited for underage drinking.  It was also alleged that Bush bit one of the security members on the left arm. The Padres took the incident seriously and suspended Bush and considered legal action to void his contract. The charges were eventually dropped and the Padres lifted their suspension on July 21, with the terms of the resolution made confidential.  After the suspension was lifted Bush continued to struggle with the bat and the glove. He played in 21 games in Rookie Ball withthe Arizona League Padres where he hit .192 in 21 games and .181 in 8 games with the Eugene Emeralds of the low A Northwest League and made a total of 17 errors.

In 2005, Matt Bush reported to the Padres Spring Training complex three weeks before he was required to and had added 13 pounds to his frame.  He seemed to have his life together, acknowledged that he was too cocky coming out of high school and that the events of the previous summer had humbled him, and said that his social life was non-existent.  Bush, still just 19 years old, played the 2005 season as a member of the A ball Fort Wayne Wizards of the Midwest League. Bush struggled with the bat hitting .221/.279/ .296 and the glove as he led the MWL with 38 errors. At the end of the season, Bush had fallen out of the top 20 MWL prospects and the word "bust" was being mentioned and explained by Jim Callis of Baseball America:

Bush was pretty bad at the plate. The consensus was that if you view him in the light of being the No. 1 overall pick, he can't live up to that. Just look at him as a player, and he can do some things. He can become a Gold Glove shortstop, though he'll probably never bat in the upper half of a big league order. We've gone through the saga that led to Bush being the No. 1 overall pick, and while the Padres blew it, other teams would have considered him in the top 10 picks.

The 2006 season got off to a bad start for Bush as he broke his ankle in Spring Training and missed half a season. He eventually made it back to repeat at A ball Fort Wayne where he hit .268/.333/.310 covering only 78 PA. 

In 2007, Bush began the season with the High A Lake Elsinore of the California League where he continued to struggle through 116 PA hitting .204/.310/.276 and the Padres decided to switch Bush from shortstop to pitcher. Bush pitched in High School as well, hit 95 mph on the gun, and his arm was rated by Baseball America as a 80 on the 20-80 scale. The transition to pitcher began back in the Arizona Instructional League and Bush showed immediate promise by striking out 16 in just 7.1 innings. He would report to Fort Wayne to resume his pitching career, he would face just two batters before releasing a pitch and immediately grabbing his arm in pain. An MRI revealed that Bush had a torn ligament in his elbow which would require Tommy John Surgery which would eliminate his entire 2008 season.

During the summer of 2008, while rehabbing in Arizona, Bush was involved in another bar altercation where it was reported that he suffered bodily harm. The team would take no action against Bush and he continued to progress with his rehab in Peoria. Bush stayed out of the headlines until early February of 2009.

Bush would have the weight of his alcoholism crush him in 2009. It was reported that he was involved in an altercation at a High School Boys Lacrosse team party at the Granite Hill High School campus in El Cajon, California. A witness at the scene told police that Bush was drunk, threw a golf club into the dirt, picked up and threw a freshmen lacrosse player and hit another one. He also yelled "I'm Matt (expletive) Bush and (expletive) East County" before driving over a curb in his Mercedes while leaving the campus. As a result of the incident and withthe signing of OF Cliff Floyd, the Padres designated Matt Bush for assignment, giving them 10 days to work out a trade or release him. On February 10, 2009, the Padres traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later or cash. To make room on the roster the Blue Jays designated pitcher Dirk (Garfoose) Hayhurst for assignment. The time with the Blue Jays would be short lived.  On April 2, 2009, Bush was involved in an altercation at a party. According to reports, someone had drawn marking on his face.  Bush blamed a 23-year old female, and she accused him of throwing a baseball past her head and banging on her car window to scare her.  She also said that he appeared intoxicated and acted belligerently. No charges were filed, but the Blue Jays released Bush the following day because he had violated the zero-tolerance policy that was part of his contract with the team.

Getting released by the Blue Jays wasn't the rock bottom point for Matt Bush. Rock bottom came after Bush was arrested on June 28, 2009, in a "caught on video" cry for help. The story as relayed by Joe Smith of the St. Petersburg Times is that Bush was living with his parents back in San Diego and would drive to the local liquor store and buy little bottles of booze which he drank until he would black out. After one of these drunken afternoons on June 28th, police received a call at about 1:40 in the afternoon about a man throwing objects at passing cars while standing outside his vehicle on Camino de la Reina near the San Diego Union-Tribune building in Mission Valley. Police said that he had hit at least one car with his belt buckle. After getting into his vehicle, he backed into that same car, causing damage. He was arrested and taken to jail and booked on assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest, driving on a suspended license, vandalism, and driving under the influence. He would plead guilty to misdemeanor reckless driving involving alcohol, vandalism and resisting arrest and was sentenced to 120 days in an alcohol rehabilitation center.

It was at that Southern California Rehab center that Matt Bush would be visited by the Rays.  Dominick Johnson, a friend of Bush's called Rays area scout Jake Wilson (a former Padres scout) to set up a visit. Jake Wilson came away impressed and soon the Rays would make a contract offer to Bush. The Rays weren't the only team interested in Matt Bush, other teams including the Red Sox were interested in him as well. Bush chose to sign with Tampa because he expressed that the Rays were interested in his rehabilitation first and would send him to the Winning Inning Baseball Academy in Clearwater where he stayed in the same room as former Rays prospect Josh Hamilton. Bush hardly pitched in 2010, logging only 8 ½innings with the Charlotte Stone Crabs and 5 1/3 innings in the Gulf Coast League.

Bush came to spring training this year expecting to get sent down to the minors and he was in fact part of the first cuts.  He did pitch in five games, allowed two runs on three hits and four walks in five innings.  The Rays goal for Matt Bush is to build up some innings, maintain his health, and if he performs well, possibly bring him up to the majors.

***

Much of the information of Matt Bush's time with the Rays came from www.tbo.com, and there are a number of great quotes from Matt Bush.

Joe Smith: March 10, 2007 (here)

Marc Topkin: March 11, 2011 (here)

Tony Fabrizio: March 12, 2011 (here)

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