LA QUINTA, Calif. - Mark Mulder came to the baseball-crazed (and that's putting it lightly) city of St. Louis last year as a savior with a golden left arm. He would be the clear-cut ace the Cardinals lacked, the one piece in the puzzle that could erase manager Tony La Russa's string of postseason losses and send Redbird Nation into spasmic fits of joy.
Bob Costas included.
So Mulder showed up, and the Cardinals went from getting swept in the World Series in 2004 to bowing out in the National League Championship Series in 2005.
There's a lot of stress in Mark Mulder's baseball life. Even if he is 97-50 with a 3.87 career ERA in six major league seasons. His ERA's actually even better in the postseason (2.34 in seven games), but his playoff record is a mere 3-4 and he's been part of some of the most disappointing teams in recent times (the 2001 and 2002 Oakland A's five-game first-round losers and last year's Cardinals).
It's no wonder Mulder looks to golf for a little relief. He's always played, frequenting the campus golf course while at Michigan State, but making the majors really turned him into a fanatic. Mulder became addicted to golf while playing on road trips with the fun-bunch A's teams, known for racing remote-controlled cars in the clubhouse and pulling the most childish pranks imaginable on each other. A 6-foot-6 left-hander, Mulder doesn't always have an easy time finding the perfect club, but he can hit it a long way when he connects.
Mulder headed to spring training in Jupiter, Florida recently - throwing for another October run, sure. But he'll also look to hit some of the state's top courses. TravelGolf.com caught up to him at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, where he played with Yankees great Yogi Berra in his celebrity group every day. Now, Yogi knows a thing or two about rings.
None of the fans in the Palm Springs valley seemed to care much that Mulder's still searching for that championship. In fact, most of his fans on the course appeared to be women ogling him.
Ah, the joys of the golf life.
Q: What's the difference in feeling between standing on a pitcher's mound staring down major league hitters and hitting shots on a golf course with the crowd around in a PGA celebrity field event?
A: This is nerve-wracking. I'm not used to doing this. I don't like this. I don't have confidence in this. Everything in baseball I have confidence in. Not this. This is a completely different animal and I don't think a lot of people realize that, know what I mean?
Q: How does your approach in golf compare to your approach on the mound?
A: There is none. With golf, it's just swing and hope. Out on the mound, I have plan of attack for every hitter. I'm in control. I never feel in control on the golf course. Does anybody? [Laughs]
You just hope for the best.
Q: When did you first seriously get into golf?
A: Oh, I've been playing since I was little. I didn't get serious about it. I never really do. But I've been playing as long as I can remember. I played a lot after college. Once I signed with Oakland, we went out and played all the time.
It's just a recreational thing. But I love it. It's so different than baseball. And then I'm not thinking about other stuff. It relaxes me.
Q: Who's the best golfing baseball player you've played with?
A: That I've played with? I know [Atlanta Braves pitcher] John Smoltz is the best of the baseball guys, but I haven't played with him before. So I'll have to say him because I haven't played with anybody who's a really good golfer. I'd have to go with Smoltz by default.
We're baseball players. We're not that good.
Q: Do you hope to take Smoltz's golf-king mantle one day?
A: No, it's not that serious. I mean, I like what I do, but I'm not trying to do anything with it. Once you retire [from baseball], that's a little bit different. Then you can plug in more time for it. But until then I just do it for enjoyment.
Q: Would that be something you'd think about - taking a crack at playing Champions Tour or some level like that down the road?
A: That's a long ways away. That's 30 years ... 22 years from now. So I've got a lot of time to maybe get better and after that I'll worry about it.
Q: Who are some of the baseball players who are notoriously bad golfers? The guys you've played with, who you've just been [and thought], This guy really shouldn't be out on the course?
A: Bad golfers? ... I'm not going to call anybody out like that. There are some guys who maybe don't hit it as well, but they're fun to play with, you know? That's all you're concerned about.
Q: Is there any celebrity that you've always wanted to meet at these events?
A: No, not really. I think most of the guys I've met in years past. There's a bunch of guys that I've actually met already. Our tee times are actually separate, so I haven't really seen many of them. I saw George Lopez and said hello to him the first morning.
Most of these guys I've met before, just in passing on the range or whatever.
Q: It seems like pitchers tend to be the better golfers among major leaguers.
A: We have a lot more time sitting down. The position guys have got to play every day. We don't. So that's the No. 1 reason right there.
Q: Someone in golf always gets called the best player to never win a major. Phil Mickelson wore the crown for years before finally breaking through. Are these Cardinals teams of the last few years the best baseball team to not win a ring?
A: You had to go there. I'm in St. Louis right now? No, you'd like to think so, but it doesn't matter if you can't close the deal. I've only been on the Cardinals for one year, though, so hopefully that changes this season. Some of those Oakland teams I was on, especially early on when [Jason] Giambi and Johnny [Damon] were there, were pretty darn good teams too, I thought, that ran into trouble at the end.
I'm just going to keep pitching, keep trying to get better and we'll see what happens.
March 10, 2006
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