Death of friend gives Bard new perspective

Yeah, Josh Bard is excited about re-signing with the Mariners and getting a chance to compete for a roster spot this spring. But the veteran catcher will bring a different perspective to Peoria, having witnessed the death of his closest friend less than three months ago when their truck overturned on a hunting trip in Colorado.

BardMug.jpgMLB.com’s Jim Street told the initial story shortly after the accident, in which Denver pastor Pat McKendry died after being tossed from the back of a Ford F-150 truck driven by his son on a backroad in eastern Colorado.

Bard said Tuesday he recovered quickly from his own minor injuries in the crash, but the emotional scars are a different story.

“Obviously emotionally it’s been a lot harder than physically,” he said. “I got banged up a little bit, but I’m totally recovered. It’s heartbreaking to lose your best friend. But ultimately I feel I’ve been blessed to have another day on this planet.

“To go out and put a uniform on again in Spring Training will definitely be a different feeling [this year]. I’m going to try to have more fun and not take myself so seriously all the time. Sometimes this job becomes tedious and pressure-filled. But when you’re given a second chance, you can go out and have fun and encourage your teammates to do the same.

“Baseball is very important to me, but it’s not my whole life. I understand that now.”

I talked to Bard shortly after he agreed to a one-year Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training and he’s eager to reunite with Eric Wedge, who managed him in Triple-A for a season and then his first four years in Cleveland.

He said Wedge runs a tight ship and is extremely clear where he stands with players, which he thinks will be a good thing with a young team. He draws a lot of parallels with the Indians club Wedge inherited and took to the ALCS championship.

And Bard also says he has a good relationship with assistant GM Jeff Kingston from their days together in San Diego, which is why he believes the Mariners when they told him he’ll get a chance to compete with Adam Moore for the backup job behind Miguel Olivo.

Bard started last season in Tacoma and might well do so again, but his return gives the Mariners added depth at catcher and a guy at 32 who feels he’s still got a lot to offer.

“I know Miguel will be the every-day guy. I understand that,” Bard said. “With the numbers he’s put up, he deserves that. And I’ve heard from around the league he’s a good guy to play with.

“Jeff [Kingston] told me the opportunity is here to come in and win a spot. They said we’re not going to give you anything. They believe in Adam, which they should. But they need to put the best team on the field while developing these guys.

“The thing I’ve learned in this game, regarldess of whether you sign a big-league or a minor-league deal — and I’ve signed ‘em all — you’ve got to play well. If you do, you’ll get an opportunity. If not, you wait. I feel my best days are still ahead of me. I’m 32 and healthy. So I’ll try to help Olivo and Adam and make the best of my chances.”

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