Scott Oberg did everything right. He devoted himself to baseball at Tewksbury High School and earned a scholarship to pitch at the University of Connecticut.
He was 9-2 with a 1.88 earned run average his first two seasons playing with future big leaguers Nick Ahmed, Matt Barnes, and George Springer.
Tommy John surgery wiped out his junior year, but Oberg came back to pitch even better as a senior and was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2012.
It took a few years to gain his footing in the majors, but Oberg became one of the best relievers in baseball from 2018-19.
In the 2018 wild-card game against the Cubs, Oberg was called on with two outs in the bottom of the 12th, and he struck out Kris Bryant looking. After the Rockies scored in the top of the 13th, Oberg came back out and struck out all three batters, all swinging, on 14 pitches
Since making his debut in 2015, Oberg’s 259 appearances are the most for any Rockies pitcher, no small feat given the thin air at Coors Field.
That’s what makes everything you’ll read next so unfair.
When Oberg took the field to play catch at Rockies camp in Arizona on March 25, his right hand became numb and started to cramp. An athletic trainer couldn’t find a pulse in his wrist and Oberg was quickly taken to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.
“That’s when I knew this was something pretty serious,” Oberg said.
He underwent surgery to remove blood clots and his season was over before it started.
Possibly his career, too. It was the fourth surgery Oberg has had since 2016 to deal with blood clots. At 31, he may be at the point when trying to pitch again doesn’t make sense.
“We’re all devastated by this, knowing Scotty like we do, and knowing some of the heartache that he has been through over the course of his career as it relates to this problem,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “We are crushed by the news.”
Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania thought they found a solution to the problem last fall when they removed Oberg’s top rib on his right side to clear a constricted area. Oberg reported to spring training ready to pitch and worked four scoreless innings before the issue returned. Now he’s back on the 60-day injured list.
“I don’t think I’ve been misled in any way,” Oberg said. “The medical science only goes so far sometimes. We have a lot of information currently on hand, but there’s also a lot of information about the body we don’t know. It’s just part of it. I’m not going to sit here and put blame on anybody. That’s just something I’m not comfortable doing.
“It’s happened. It’s out of my control. I have to do the best I can to accept that reality and do the best I can to move forward with the hand that I’m dealt.”
Oberg first had surgery in 2016 after being diagnosed with axillary artery thrombosis. He developed another clot in 2019 that was dissolved via surgery. Then he had a second procedure by a vascular surgeon in St. Louis to clear out scar tissue and make the artery wider. But blood clots formed again last July when Oberg started pitching when the season restarted. Now it has happened again.
“It can be very dangerous if the clots break off and start heading to the heart and lungs,” Oberg said. “I’ve been told the arteries run away from those vital organs. So I guess if you have a blood clot, that’s the one to have.
“Hopefully we’re going to be able to come up with some definite answers.”
When Oberg was 20 and a sophomore at UConn, he developed psoriatic arthritis and at one point needed a cane to get around campus before doctors found the right medication to relieve his symptoms.
UConn coach Jim Penders recently told Oberg that his medical issues in college prepared him for the trials that followed.
“There are times I’ve reflected on that and how it kind of paved the way for me,” Oberg said. “I don’t know if tough is the right word or not because I don’t feel all that tough.
“To me, it’s just the way I do things and the value system that was instilled upon me as a kid with my brother [Jeffrey] by my parents [Royd and Teresa]. To me, that’s where it started, having that solid foundation at a young age to be able to accept some of those things that don’t go your way, or be too upset about things that are out of your control. Handle things with grace as best you can.”
Penders taught him similar lessons at UConn.
“That can get you through difficult times,” Oberg said. “It certainly did with me. I don’t have any regrets with any decisions I made in the game.”
Barnes, who regards Oberg as one of the finest people he knows, has been in touch since the latest incident.
“You’re talking about a guy, he’s such a good dude,” Barnes said. “I don’t know that I’ve met somebody in my life who has had as many unfortunate things come his way from when we were at UConn up to now.
“His resilience speaks to his character. To have this happen again is incredibly unfortunate.”
For now, Oberg is focusing on his health and finding a way to help the Rockies this season. He’s the team’s union rep and plans to continue in that role.
Oberg said his wife, Diana, has been “a rock star” through this ordeal. They have a little girl, 2-year-old Charlotte.
“Emotionally it’s been hard, I’m not going to lie,” Oberg said. “I think this one is maybe harder than some or the others.
“You want to think the doctors have figured it out and the last procedure is the one that will work, and somebody will say, ‘Hey, we’re going to be good. We’re going in the right direction.’ Then it hits and you’re kind of overwhelmed a little bit. It’s a tidal wave of thoughts, emotions. Everything.”
Oberg acknowledged pondering retirement and finding a new role in baseball.
“Those are big questions,” he said. “Certainly don’t want to get ahead of myself in anything. The game has been very good to me and my family. Who knows what kind of opportunities will present themselves down the road? But I feel like I have enough relationships in the game a little bit that that could be a possibility.
“Baseball is always going to be on my mind. It’s been on my mind since I was a kid and it’ll always be on my mind. But I need to make sure I’m there for my family.”
NOT SO FAST
For Hyers, new rules won’t help
The Red Sox’ Tim Hyers has been a major league hitting coach for six years. His job security relies on players getting on base.
But Hyers doesn’t believe the hitter-friendly rules changes that will be tried out in the minor leagues this season will help as much as MLB hopes.
“From my perspective on the hitting side, I just think it’s pretty much going to be the same,” he said. “I may be totally wrong with that, but, for right now, on the hitting side there’s not going to be that much difference.”
The changes include a requirement in Double A that all four infielders have their cleats on the infield dirt when a pitch is delivered. Meaning the second baseman can’t camp out in shallow right field and steal hits from lefthanded pull hitters.
“I know a lot of hitters are going to love that,” Hyers said. “But hitters are trying to hit the ball hard and pitchers make it difficult for them to try and manipulate the barrel [of the bat] and move the ball around. It’s really difficult.
“We still have a lot of work to do because batting averages keep going down and down each year even though balls in play have stayed the same. That’s an interesting stat. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.”
Hyers said he would rather see the game evolve on its own. But one change that could suit his purposes is the idea of moving the mound back a foot to give hitters an extra split-second to react.
That is expected to be something coming in the next wave of experiments.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ Mo Vaughn took a break from baseball after playing his final game in 2003. The Hit Dog spent his time as a real estate investor with occasional appearances at Fenway Park,
Now 53, Vaughn is joining NESN as a pregame and postgame analyst, along with Ellis Burks, Jonathan Papelbon, and Kevin Youkilis.
“I got this opportunity and it felt good at this point in time to come back and be involved and it worked out,” Vaughn said. “I’m happy to be able to give some insight. It just seemed like the right time.”
Vaughn belted 230 home runs for the Sox from 1991-98 while hitting .304. He frowned when asked about the launch angle evolution baseball is experiencing.
“You still have to hit down through the ball,” Vaughn said. “I remember when I came up. Ellis told me straight up, ‘Listen, guy, you’ve got to come up here and know how to play and know how to hit with two strikes.’
“I’m not so sure that’s happening now. But I hope we get back to more hitters hitting for average, hitting the ball where it’s pitched and doing those things. To me, it was a lot more fun.”
Vaughn has never been afraid to voice his opinions and could be a natural on television.
▪ Christian Vazquez has made four consecutive Opening Day starts. That’s the longest streak for a Sox catcher since Jason Varitek had 10 in a row from 2000-09.
▪ Since 2012, Cleveland has used three Opening Day starters: Justin Masterson (2012-14), Corey Kluber (2014-19), and Shane Bieber (2020-21).
The Sox have had six: Jon Lester (2012-14), Clay Buchholz (2015), David Price (2016), Rick Porcello (2017), Chris Sale (2018-19), and Nate Eovaldi (2020-21). It would have been seven if not for Eduardo Rodriguez being pushed back this season.
Shortstop market is in full swing
Fernando Tatís Jr. landed 14 years and $340 million from the Padres. Then Francisco Lindor received 10 years and $341 million from the Mets.
The best offer the Astros made to Carlos Correa was five years and $125 million. Now Correa is already talking about Houston in the past tense.
“They made it very clear to me. They said they don’t believe in long contracts. They don’t believe in big contracts,” Correa said. “Once I hit free agency, I’m going to look after a big, long contact.”
Lindor is 27 and has a 117 adjusted OPS over six seasons. Correa is 26 and has a 126 adjusted OPS over six seasons.
If you’re Correa, the Astros offer is an insult.
Alex Cora, who is friendly with both players, was thrilled for Lindor.
“As a kid, as an individual, as a friend, very proud of him,” Cora said. “He’s worked so hard to get to this point.”
Correa will enter a free agent market that, for now, will also include Javier Báez, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story.
The Cubs and Báez have agreed to keep talking during the season.
The Tatís and Lindor deals will help the others. As for Xander Bogaerts, he can’t opt out of his deal until after the 2022 season as he enters his age-30 season.
Too much can happen before then to speculate how he’ll be affected.
It could be a season of milestones for Miguel Cabrera, who started the season needing 13 home runs for 500, 133 hits for 3,000, and 19 doubles for 600. Only Henry Aaron and Albert Pujols have hit all three of those marks. Of the 27 players with 500 home runs, only Ted Williams (.344), Babe Ruth (.342), and Jimmie Foxx (.325) have a higher batting average than Cabrera’s current mark of .313 . . . Adrian Gonzalez, who turns 39 next month, has signed with an expansion team in the Mexican League as preparation for playing for Mexico in the Olympics in July. The Cooler hasn’t played since June 2018 with the Mets. This bodes well for Mexico in 2024 as both the Red Sox and Dodgers won championships soon after Gonzalez left the team . . .Catcher Yadier Molina has started 17 consecutive Opening Days, the longest streak at one position in Cardinals history. Only Stan Musial, with 18 from 1946-63, has a longer overall streak . . . Outfielder Garrett Mitchell, Milwaukee’s first-round pick last season, hit .367 with a .973 OPS in 32 plate appearances in spring training. Scouts see the former UCLA star as being a fast mover in the minors because of how well he commands the strike zone . . . Rookie Ben Bowden of Lynn English via Vanderbilt made the Rockies’ Opening Day roster as the only lefthander in the bullpen . . . David Price opened the season in the bullpen for the Dodgers, who have Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, and Dustin May in the rotation. That’s a $32 million long reliever with the Red Sox picking up half. Price said he would be open to that role at the start of camp and manager Dave Roberts took him up on it . . . Congratulations to the founding father of this space, Peter Gammons. He will be inducted into the North Carolina Media and Journalism Hall of Fame on Friday. Gammons is a 1969 graduate of the University of North Carolina . . . Happy birthday to Red Sox lefthander Martín Pérez, who is 30. John Lickert, the Red Sox version of Moonlight Graham, is 61. Lickert was drafted by the Sox in 1978 and called up in September 1981 as the third catcher behind Rich Gedman and Gary Allenson. On Sept. 19 at Fenway Park, the Sox scored seven runs in the bottom of the eighth to take an 8-5 lead on the Yankees. Gedman and Allenson had been hit for and Lickert was needed after sitting nine days. He caught the ninth inning as Mark Clear finished the game. The Sox played 14 more games but Lickert never got into another game despite the team being out of contention. With the team in Cleveland to end the season, a Globe story noted his parents had come from Pittsburgh and were hoping to see him play, but manager Ralph Houk did not acquiesce. Lickert stayed in professional baseball until 1985 but never appeared in another major league game. He went to become a truck driver and youth basketball coach and makes his home in Rhode Island, according to author Bill Nowlin.