Long road back brings success for Cotts

Of the more than half dozen Texas Rangers with ties to the White Sox and Cubs, pitcher Neal Cotts might have the most compelling story.

The lefthanded reliever played on the 2005 World Series champion Sox team before being traded to the Cubs and playing on the North Side’s playoff teams from 2007 to 2009. But he was done by July, 2009 needing Tommy John surgery.

He tried coming back in 2010, signing a minor league contract with Pittsburgh. In 2011, he didn’t make it out of spring training with the Yankees and didn’t pitch at all that year.

He signed with the Rangers the following year and persevered through other injuries in the minors. But he tried again this season–and got the call up May 21.

HIs performance since then has been nothing short of remarkable:

He is 5-2 with a 1.30 ERA and ranks among the American League’s top relievers in those categories. He was co-player of the month in June and only the seventh Texas reliever to achieve four or more victories in one month.

“Eventually, I just wanted to get out on the field and see if I could do it again,” said Cotts, now 33. “That was the whole point of last year. I wanted to get back. If it was going to be the end-all and I wasn’t going to pitch anymore, I wanted to have it be done on the field.

“If performance-wise or health-wise you’re not good enough, at least you were able to try. That was basically my goal going into last year.”

Cotts, a native of downstate Lebanon, has kept his Chicago residence throughout his comeback tries. His first trip to U.S. Cellular Field Friday since being at the park with the Cubs was “exciting,” he said.

“It’s exciting to come back. Coming back as a player or fan 20 years down the road, it’s going to bring back memories of an exciting time we had here [in 2005.]

“I think I pitch a little differently than when I was younger,” he said. But he has the same feel for the game–and the same passion.

“It’s exciting to be part of [a pennant race],” he said. “It’s a great team. I was briefly part of it last spring. The clubhouse is refreshing and we have fun and it carries on onto the field. We play hard, but we do have a good time.

“We had a similar team [to 2005] in terms of camaraderie and a pretty loose atmosphere–until you get between the lines.

“I won’t say you take things for granted,” he said of his approach to the game now, “but you go about things in a little more mature way. You tend to slow things down. If stuff happens, the next day, it’s all right. You can turn it around.”

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