Story by India Timpton
SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Although not a fan of all the bus trips, Neal Cotts has enjoyed the ride of his baseball career so far. Currently playing in the 10th season of his professional career many wonder how the 37-year-old pitcher still gets the job done. His age may be what catches your eye as you glimpse down the roster, but his story is what you will remember.
"I enjoy playing. I enjoy being out there. I enjoy competing ya know," Cotts answered as to why he still plays the game.
As an athlete who has been through multiple injuries, he has bounced back from more surgeries on his hips alone, then most will have on their whole body in a lifetime. The physical ups and downs that outline his career took him away from the game for almost three years when he couldn't pass a physical or find a team willing to take a chance on him.
But he credits the time away from the game with helping him realize how much love in his heart was rooted in baseball.
"Not being around the game, not being a part of a team - that's tough."
Currently the oldest man in the Syracuse Chiefs' locker-room, Cotts was born in March of 1980. The Illinois native seems unbothered by his age and said he will play until he doesn't have the feeling or desire to be out there anymore- which will then send him home to spend some desired quality time with his wife and two kids.
Standing at 6'2 and 211lbs, the Left handed AAA pitcher laughs about the fact he is raising a son who wants to be a Right-handed catcher. While already in love with baseball, Cotts hopes he can get his boy to branch out into other sports, as he did in younger years. Admitting his heart first belonged to soccer, Cotts attributes much of his success now to being a multi-sport athlete back then.
When asked what he would change about his career, Cotts paused. After so many problems with his elbow and hips, one would think this would be any easy choice, but you would be wrong.
He only wishes he, "would have taken the business more seriously as a kid".
Cotts credits the game for taking him places he never thought he'd visit, meeting all types of people, and giving him another family made up of teammates and coaches. Since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2003, he has played on a lot of teams, in a long list of places, but didn't hesitate when asked which was his favorite.
"Chicago. I played both sides of the city in my 6 years there, its hard to beat that city."
Cotts, who sees himself as a non-vocal leader, admits that it does take him a little longer to get his body going these days. But when it does get moving, he thinks his actions are what his teammates pay attention to most. Years of experience on all the levels of baseball's highest stage has allowed him time to perfect his daily pre-workout routine.
When asked what advice he would give others trying to climb their own ladder of success, he gave his quickest answer of the day.
"Accountability. It's the biggest thing. Know what you need to and can handle. Be ready to move and deal with changes you can't control- and focus on whats in front of you and you can control."
Wise words from a seasoned athlete who still has big goals of rising back up to the major leagues and returning to a winning team.
Age may not be on the side of pitcher Neal Cotts, it did not prohibit him from playing another solid game tonight or many others this season- his stat line speaks confirms that.
Photos by India Timpton, Epiphany Catling, and Alana Seldon