Some players fear that independent baseball leagues are where big league dreams go to die.
But a stint with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League helped Scott Kazmir resurrect his Major League career.
Kazmir was a first-round selection in the 2002 amateur draft and projected to be one of the game's premier left-handed pitchers. As a member of the team formerly known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Kazmir led the American League in strikeouts in 2007, and by the age of 24 he was a two-time All-Star.
Four years later, Kazmir found himself out of Major League Baseball after two tough seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.
He popped up in the Dominican winter league in 2011 to no avail. Kazmir says, "There were definitely some trying times where I'm out there throwing 83 mph, wondering if I'm ever going to get another chance. I felt like it was just so far away to get back to the big leagues at that point."
Kazmir returned home to the Houston area and trained at the Texas Baseball Ranch. According to a 2014 ESPN The Magazine profile, he worked on strengthening his core and performed drills to loosen his hips and increase his leg drive. He says, "Being able to address certain things in my delivery was the first step to getting back."
The next step was proving to scouts that he had regained his old form. Pitching for the independent league Skeeters, Kazmir boosted his velocity back up into the 90s, and he was commanding the ball better than ever.
As a non-roster spring training invitee, he earned a spot in the Cleveland Indians' starting rotation in 2013, going on to post a 10-9 record in 29 starts.
The following off-season, he signed a two-year, $22 million contract with the Oakland Athletics, pitching his way to a 15-9 record and a third All-Star nomination.
Kazmir says, "I think that everything happens for a reason. Maybe I had to go through this to be where I am now. It made me a better person and a better pitcher."
Catch more of the Comeback Kid's reclamation story in the New Balance "Unlaced" video at the top of this article. Catch other episodes featuring New Balance's roster of MLB athletes at newbalance.com/unlaced.