PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Jason Isringhausen hasn't had business at Digital Domain Park since 1999, long before the structure gained that moniker, back when he was a 26-year-old pitcher with electric stuff and a lengthy injury history. But there he was on Tuesday, striding across camp as a 38-year-old reliever with somewhat lesser stuff and a somewhat lengthier injury history.
"There used to be nothing but bushes," Isringhausen said of Port St. Lucie, which has seen a massive population increase over the past decade. "Now it's built up a lot."
Continuing his rehabilitation from the Tommy John surgery he underwent 20 months ago, Isringhausen asked old acquaintance J.P. Ricciardi, the Mets' assistant to the general manager, if he could show up at Port St. Lucie to throw for the Mets. Ricciardi said yes. And so Isringhausen arrived on Tuesday at the place where he started his career, fired a short bullpen session and departed.
Some 10 hours later, the Mets officially inked Isringhausen to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. He will report to camp Wednesday.
"He's a good guy," Ricciardi said. "I think ultimately we'd love to see him get here -- that's number one. Number two, get him in shape, number three, see where it progresses. But to sit here and envision him being on a Major League staff right now has to be something that we watch through progress."
Earlier this spring, Isringhausen threw in Arizona for the Reds, who offered him a Minor League contract. But the Reds have a crowded bullpen and couldn't guarantee him many Cactus League innings. The Mets, meanwhile, have a relatively sparse bullpen for this point in the spring, and could offer Isringhausen both innings and a contract.
So they considered it and discussed it, then drew up the papers.
"All I need is a chance," Isringhausen said.
Consider that confidence from a man who has not pitched since 2009, when he threw eight innings for the Rays prior to his most recent surgery. At his peak, Isringhausen was a two-time All-Star closer for the Cardinals, leading the league with 47 saves in 2004 and posting a 2.53 ERA from 2001-05 for Oakland and St. Louis.
Isringhausen has made more than $56 million over a 14-year career, but he hasn't faced a situation like this since he was a rookie with the Mets back in 1995, considered -- along with Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson -- to be a superstar of the future. Though that tag didn't stick with any of the three young pitching prospects, Isringhausen went on to see by far the most big league success.
Now he's simply looking for another chance.
"It's hard to pass it up," Isringhausen said. "This is where it all started. Full circle."
At one point during Isringhausen's bullpen session on Tuesday, a small crowd took notice and watched. Manager Terry Collins stopped by. All the while, Ricciardi stood behind the man, evaluating.
"It's the first time I've had to try out for a few years," Isringhausen said. "But those nerves are what keep you going. If you're not nervous, you don't need to be here."
Isringhausen wants to be here. He is 38 now, still with a desire to pitch.
And the Mets may be able to use him. Other than closer Francisco Rodriguez and setup man Bobby Parnell, their bullpen has no guarantees. All offseason, GM Sandy Alderson took pains to sign low-cost, low-risk, potentially high-reward relievers for his bullpen -- the Taylor Tankersleys and Taylor Buchholzes and Pedro Beatos of the world.
Now another one may have just fallen in his lap.
"You've got to put yourself in a position to get lucky, and who knows?" Alderson said. "Luck may have just walked through the door."