DENVER – Seventeen years ago, Jamie Moyer's baseball career had taken a u-turn.
At the age of 30, he was headed back to Triple-A for the third year in a row. He was with his sixth organization in seven years. The second of his seven children had been born.
Father-in-law Digger Phelps mentioned a friend who was doing quite well making recreational vehicles, and suggested Moyer might want to consider getting into the business.
"I just wasn't ready to give it up," Moyer said. "I am glad I went back and stuck with it. I really felt I could continue to play and I felt I had something to offer to the game. It has worked out."
It's worked out real well.
Today, at 47, Moyer is a stalwart in the rotation of a Philadelphia team that has won the last three NL East titles, the last two NL pennants and a world championship in 2008.
The left-hander, who was 34-54 with a 4.56 earned run average prior to turning 30, is 228-143 with a 4.14 ERA since returning to the big leagues in the midst of the 1994 season.
A week ago, he became the oldest pitcher ever to throw a complete-game shutout in a two-hit, 7-0 win against Atlanta.
"There were times when I thought it would be over by now, but I am enjoying it and trying to make the best of it," he said. "I appreciate where I am and think I have a great opportunity with a special group of guys and we have been able to win a lot of baseball games the last couple of years. That makes it all worthwhile."
Of course, Moyer is a key part of the success.
A guy who was told to give it up 17 years ago is the active leader in wins (262, 40th all time), games started (615, 18th all-time), innings pitched (3,947 2/3, 42nd all-time) and strikeouts (2,362, 34th all-time).
And since turning 40, his 98 wins rank second all-time behind only Phil Niekro (121), 1,425 innings pitched trail only Jack Quinn and Niekro, 834 strikeouts rank fourth, and 228 starts are six fewer than all-time 40-plus leader Niekro.
He is the third-oldest player to appear in the big leagues (other than Minnie Minoso) since a 49-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm fluttered knuckleballs for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1972. Julio Franco was two months older in 2006, and Niekro pitched at the age of 48 in 1987.
Moyer, however, is also a bottom-line guy.
"You are only as good as your last game, so it's up to me to go out and prepare, and give my best effort every time out," Moyer said.
So far, the best has been good enough to keep teams interested, which has kept Moyer pitching.
He is one of only eight 40-plus players in the big league, and one of only four of that group who has a regular role on the roster (Tim Wakefield, 43, Boston; Trevor Hoffman, 42, Milwaukee; and Mariano Rivera, 42, Yankees). Omar Vizquel, 43, is a utility infielder with the Chicago White Sox. Matt Stairs, 42, is a left-handed bat off the bench for San Diego. Ken Griffey, Jr., 40, is a part-time DH in Seattle. Arthur Rhodes, 40, is a situational reliever in Cincinnati.
It hasn't always been easy.
"I have learned that recovery is just as important as working out," Moyer said. "I spend a little more time recovering now than working out. I do a lot of work and I throw a lot, but I also give my body a chance to bounce back.
"I am a big believer that a pitcher has to play catch every day. I throw in some long toss. I do a lot of flat ground stuff. Once between starts I throw in the bullpen. I'm not afraid to throw the baseball. It's something that bred into me as a young boy and as I progress through the game I came to understand that is very important."
Some of that came from being a teammate of Nolan Ryan and Charlie Hough, both of whom pitched into their 40s, in Texas more than 20 years ago. They both warned that the reflexes will make it known when it's time to pack the bags for the last time.
"I feel I still do a pretty good job of getting to first base, fielding bunts," Moyer said. "I haven't had a whole lot of balls hit back at me. That problem's the most difficult on me. Heck, it's difficult when you are 25.
"And the competitiveness is there. The desire to come here every day and work. I am just trying to enjoy each day because I never know when my last day will be and I want to be able to look back and say, 'It's been a fun career.'"
Never a power pitcher, Moyer has built his success around an ability to change speeds and hit spots, an approach, he admits, that was hard to accept in his younger years. That three-year visitation to the minors was a factor. So was Moyer's meeting the late Bus Campbell, a Denver-area pitching career, who came on the recommendation of Phelps, who had heard about Campbell through a friend.
"I have gained confidence as I have become older and matured," he said. "I have been on some very good clubs. ... I have had many people over the course of my career not have a whole lot of confidence in my ability, and I have felt that I have to go out and prove myself each and every day."
And he tries to learn a little more every day, too.
"I feel I have benefited from that throughout my career," he said. "I was around Nolan Ryan to see his work ethic. I had the opportunity to play with a guy like Andre Dawson. He signs a blank contract (with the Chicago Cubs) and goes out and has an MVP year and doesn't say a word about his contract.
"There is a right way to play the game and I have had the good fortune of being around people who helped me develop the respect the game deserves."
And in the process, Moyer has earned the respect of his peers and the students of the game.