BY MATT LaWELL
BURLINGTON, Iowa | Ask John Wasdin about the only night he says he was special and he will rattle off every number, every detail, even now, more than nine years later. “It was 100 pitches,” he says. “I got a base hit up the middle in my first at-bat. I struck out 15. I went to one three-ball count, and that happened in the ninth inning with two outs against Rob Stratton.
“I threw him three straight curveballs and struck him out.”
And then Wasdin stepped off the mound and walked six feet, maybe eight, before his Nashville Sounds teammates clustered around him, all in celebration of a feat rare enough to cause baseball players to jump on top of each during the first week of another season.
A perfect game. Who cares that it happened in the minor leagues?
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Nine years ago, Wasdin was a journeyman right-hander mired in the minors in Nashville, buried behind other pitchers in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Today, he is the pitching coach for the Burlington Bees of the Low-A Midwest League, the old man in a young clubhouse, though he’s still young by most standards. He will turn 40 during the dog days of summer in early August, and he looks a few years younger than that. His jaw is chiseled, his waist is trim, his curveball still snaps. He pitched an inning in an exhibition game last year, without having stepped on a mound in seven or eight months, and reached 89 with his fastball. He still wants to toe the rubber.
MINOR LEAGUE PERFECT GAMES
NINE OR MORE INNINGS
Chester Carmichael, August 9, 1910, Buffalo vs. Jersey City, 1-0 (International League)
Dick Marlowe, August 15, 1952, Buffalo vs. Baltimore, 2-0 (IL)
Tomo Ohka, June 1, 2000, Pawtucket vs. Charlotte, 2-0 (IL)
John Halama, July 1, 2001, Tacoma vs. Calgary, 6-0 (Pacific Coast League)
John Wasdin, April 7, 2003, Nashville vs. Albuquerque, 4-0 (PCL)
Manny Parra, June 25, 2007, Nashville vs. Round Rock 3-0 (PCL)
Justin Germano, July 26, 2011, Columbus vs. Syracuse, 3-0 (IL)
Ed Cole, July 10, 1935, Galveston vs. Tulsa, 1-0 (Texas League)
Chet Covington, May 23, 1943, Scranton vs. Albany, 6-0 (Eastern League)
Charles Swanson, August 14, 1970, Montgomery vs. Savannah, 3-0 (Southern League)
Dave Wilhelmi, May 4, 1983, Shreveport vs. Arkansas, 7-0 (TL)
A.J. Murray, Steve Karsay and Scott Feldman, July 28, 2005, Frisco vs. Corpus Christi (TL)
Jeanmar Gomez, May 21, 2009, Akron vs. Trenton, 3-0 (EL)
Percival Ford, June 1, 1967, West Palm Beach vs. Fort Lauderdale (Florida State League)
Larry Bohannon, May 13, 1968, Orlando vs. Leesburg (FSL)
Ed Phillips, July 17, 1968, Winston-Salem vs. Rocky Mount, 3-0 (Carolina League)
Steve Hardin, April 18, 1973, Wilson vs. Winston-Salem, 3-0 (CL)
Marc Bombard, June 6, 1975, Tampa vs. Lakeland (FSL)
Marty Bystrom, August 12, 1978, Peninsula vs. Winston-Salem, 3-0 (CL)
Randolph Ramirez, August 3, 1983, Bakersfield vs. Stockton, 3-0 (California League)
Marcos Castillo, June 14, 1999, San Bernardino vs. Lake Elsinore, 4-0 (CAL)
Eric Ireland, June 23, 1999, Kissimmee vs. St. Petersburg (FSL)
Nick Regilio, June 9, 2001, Charlotte vs. Jupiter (FSL)
Keith Ramsey, September 6, 2004, Kinston vs. Myrtle Beach, 6-0 (CL)
John Herbert, July 23, 1955, Erie vs. Hornell (New York-Penn League)
Dennis Ribant, July 2, 1961, Quad Cities vs. Clinton, 1-0 (Midwest League)
Scott Dunn, August 3, 2000, Clinton vs. Lansing, 7-0 (MWL)
Kip Bouknight and Patrick Lynch, August 8, 2001, Tri-City vs. Boise (Northwest League)
Chris Coughlin, June 30, 2004, Burlington vs. Beloit, 3-0 (MWL)
Guillermo Moscoso, July 15, 2007, Oneonta vs. Batavia (NYPL)
Jason Robbins, August 1, 1994, Billings vs. Medicine Hat, 5-0 (Pioneer League)
“I can still throw,” he says. “This year, I worked out like I was going to play again. The players see me out there doing the work they want to do. I’ll stretch with them sometimes, I’ll run with them sometimes. I tossed three or four times today and threw batting practice.”
By most statistical analyses and anecdotal accounts, including his own, Wasdin turned in an average career. He started 65 games, appeared in 263 others, won 39, lost 39, retired with a 5.28 ERA. He also pitched in the heart of the Steroid Era, when a 5.28 ERA was right around the league average. He pitched a dozen seasons in the Majors, too, and 17 overall, including a pair in Japan, a long career by any standard.
Few of the Bees he works with watched him play when they were younger, and even fewer knew the details of his career when the season opened in April. “I knew he played in the big leagues, but I never knew for what teams,” outfielder Royce Consigli says. “I remember him being all over the league.”
After a couple months in Burlington and a handful of long road trips, Consigli searched for a little information about the coach still as fit as the players. “I was just reading up on him,” Consigli says, “and saw he threw a perfect game. I had no idea. I asked him about it, and he said, ‘Yeah.’”
“I’m not a big guy to talk about stats and what I did,” Wasdin says. “If they bring it up, we’ll talk about it.”
Even when asked about his career and the perfect game, Wasdin often talks about plenty else — including his training, his running, his ideas about how to pull away from the game for a bit with daily mental escapes like card games or golf. If he talks about what he accomplished for five minutes, he might talk about how he accomplished that for 30 or 40 more. “I never want to sound cocky,” he says.
There is nothing cocky about talking about a perfect game, though.
In the Majors, there is arguably no greater individual accomplishment than slugging four home runs in a single game. Before Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton homered four times in game earlier this season in Baltimore, only 15 other Major Leagues had ever matched that number. In the minors, though, 113 players had hit four or more homers in a game. It happened at least one time every season from 1993 until 2008.
The perfect game is different. For a pitcher — or two, or three — to retire 27 straight hitters, without a hit, without a walk, without an error, without any hiccup at all, is exponentially more difficult in the minor leagues, where the hitters might not be as advanced, but neither are the fielders. There have been 22 recognized perfect games of nine or more innings in the history of the Majors. In the minors, according to league records and media guides, there have been just 31.
Wasdin was 30 when he pitched his — only the second in the history of the Pacific Coast League — in his first start of the 2003 season. “To have that perfect game, and know I did it is pretty cool,” Wasdin says. “But knowing that, where did it get me? I never made it to the big leagues that year with the Pirates.”
He does have the cap and jersey he wore that night in Nashville, though, displayed in a corner of a room in his home. He has the rubber he toed that night, too, dug up out of the dirt. “It’s not a shrine,” he says. “Just a memento of glory days.”
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Wasdin focuses more on the present. He prefers to talk about the Bees and how he wants to help improve every pitcher. He wants to move right up with them, to Stockton and Midland and Sacramento and Oakland. “He really knows his stuff,” righty reliever Max Perlman says. “It’s astonishing.”
He wants to remain in good shape, always ready, just in case. One day last season, during a series at Fort Wayne, he trotted down the foul line, touched the pole and started to run along the outfield wall. When he reached the other pole, he touched it, turned around and ran back. He did that two times, then 10, then 20. Players started to come out for afternoon workouts and Wasdin still ran. Players started to stretch and he hit 30, back and forth, back and forth, hot in the Midwestern summer sun.
“How far can I go?” he asked himself. He remembered his seasons in Japan, where he learned about mental strength, about how you always have more left inside you. He finally stopped after an hour. He had hugged the wall 40 times.
Sift through all of Wasdin’s career statistics and splits, and that number shows up nowhere. But he was special that day, too.
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