PEORIA, Ariz. — The memories hit Jeff Weaver when he's alone, along with questions he still doesn't know the answer to. Funny how life works. One day, you're being designated for assignment because your little brother took your job. The next you're a hero, a World Series hero, an improbable inspiration.
The thought alone sends chills right down his spine.
"It's hard to even put into words," Jeff Weaver says. "It really doesn't make much sense."
Hollywood couldn't write this script. Weaver started last season with the Angels, another stop in a career that moves like a cross-country train — zigzagging from Detroit to New York (Yankees) to Los Angeles (Dodgers, then Angels), and later, St. Louis and Seattle.
The Anaheim leg almost proved to be the last. Weaver started last season 1-7, losing five straight from late April to mid-May. Meanwhile, his brother Jered plowed through lineup after lineup, forcing the Angels to align with one Weaver — and they picked what looked to be the future star.
Jeff Weaver heard the doubts long before then. They started in New York — a place Weaver refers to as "the microscope of the U.S." — and gained momentum until the Angels designated him for assignment.
"To think that somebody can have a uniform for nine years and not go out and be able to do his job is head-shaking to me," Weaver says. "It's very easy for people to doubt and turn their shoulder. It's up to you not to fall into that trap."
Stubbornly and perhaps amazingly, Weaver never did. He went to St. Louis in a trade on July 5. And there he found himself, four months later, starting the fifth game of the World Series. Weaver won. The Cardinals clinched.
Rafael Chaves, the Mariners pitching coach, watched that game on TV. He didn't know Weaver, had no idea they would be working together now. And still, Chaves remembers thinking to himself: "What a great story. This guy touched rock bottom and found a way to get back on his feet."
So here's Jeff Weaver in the Mariners' clubhouse on Friday afternoon, fresh off his second official outing in spring training — a three-hit, one-run, two-strikeout performance that showed marked improvement over his first appearance.
He's sporting a black cap turned backward, shades resting on top, a goatee, shorts and flip flops — the picture of California cool.
He knows that doubts remain, despite the renown from the World Series. He is, after all, an $8 million pitcher with a losing record (86-101) and 4.55 earned-run average for his career. But if last season taught Weaver anything, it's that the view from rock bottom affords one positive. There's no place to go but up.
"I've had some ups and downs," Weaver says. "But the more time that you're around, the more chances you have of having some tough times. That's just the game. If you lose confidence in yourself, you're just going to make it worse."
And then this, firm and resolute and absolute: "I never lost confidence in myself." He says this like a man who prospered from a change of scenery and hopes, more than anything, for a repeat.
Weaver thought the Cardinals would show more interest in the offseason. They did not, something he refers to as the "business of baseball," a business he has become familiar with during the vagabond career.
"When you do something you feel is a proven point to the organization, when you go out there and bring a championship, you want to feel wanted," Weaver says. "It was unfortunate. But when it comes down to ownership and budgets and everything like that, you really never know what's going to happen."
What happened is he ended up in Seattle, another new guy in a rotation in which new arms constitute the majority. Working with Chaves on using more body, less arm, and capturing or continuing some of that magic from the postseason.
After signing with the Mariners, everywhere Weaver went he ran into Cardinals fans. Some had tears in their eyes. He could see how much that World Series meant to them.
The latest reminder will come a couple days from now, when someone from Major League Baseball will arrive to size Weaver for his championship ring. He's not sure what he'll do with it, but he is sure "it will be on my finger for a while."
"I hope it shows the character that athletes need," he says, when asked what his story means. "Everybody is going to go through the darkest times. That's just a given in this game. It's how you battle back and finish."
Chaves taps his heart. It comes from there.
Then he says: "You can write a book about something like that."