During spring training, I went up to Philip Humber at his locker and joked with him that he was the forgotten man on the White Sox pitching staff. All off-season, his fellow starters were grabbing all of the headlines:
John Danks had signed a 65 million extension, Gavin Floyd was rumored to be on the trading block, Chris Sale was moving from the bullpen to the rotation, Jake Peavy was coming back from his lat muscle surgery.
What about Humber?
He almost made the All-Star team last year, going 8-5 with a 3.10 ERA before the break. Shouldn't people be talking about him?
Humber laughed and said, "I like being off everybody's radar."
He's not anymore.
Saturday, Humber threw the game of his life, dealing a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners, becoming just the 21st pitcher in the history of major league baseball to accomplish one of the rarest of feats.
Every one of those men have their own unique story as to how they reached that point in their careers. However, few took the journey that Humber did in cementing his name forever in baseball lore.
Drafted by the Yankees in the 29th round of the 2001 MLB draft, the Texas native chose to play college ball at Rice University instead. It would be the first of many twists and turns in the baseball career for Humber, once a cant-miss prospect thought to be a Porsche, who would soon find himself treated like a Pinto.
Hed help Rice win its first national championship in 2003. Hed be drafted by the Mets in 2004 as the third overall pick, one selection behind Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander, nine ahead of Jered Weaver.
He was making baseball look easy. Way too easy.
When I got drafted by the Mets, I kind of just assumed Id make a few starts in the minor leagues and just get my 10-15 year career in the big leagues, Humber said in an interview last season. I didnt realize how hard it is to actually get here, and on top of that how much harder it is to stay.
He wouldnt stay long.
Thrown into the fire of a late-September pennant race in 2007, Humber made his first major league start against the Nationals, and gave up five runs in four-plus innings. Humber didnt lose the game, but the Mets eventually did, not to mention a seven-game lead in the final three weeks of the season to the Phillies.
That winter, the Mets lost something else: their faith in their former No. 1 pick.
Humber was shipped off to Minnesota in the blockbuster trade for Johan Santana. The hot shot prospect who didnt seem to have a ceiling would soon be headed towards baseballs basement.
The Twins would designate him for assignment after one season. The Royals waived him next, followed by the Athletics.
I wasnt having fun with baseball, Humber recalled.
But while pitching winter ball in Puerto Rico in 2009, the light went on for Humber when he finally decided to turn the spotlight off.
I just wanted to go forward and play for me and not think about expectations of being traded for a big-name pitcher or for being a first-round pick that hasnt panned out. I just wanted to play for the fun of the game.
You might have forgotten, but last April, Humber held the New York Yankees hitless for 6 innings in the Bronx. Looking like a guy spacing out in math class, he coasted through a lineup featuring Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano.
I wasnt thinking about who was at the plate and how many hits they had in their careers, Humber said. I was focused on making my pitches and as the game went on, I got more and more confident. When youre confident out there, youre able to really let your ability work. So I think that was the difference.
There was also the advice he received as a 12-year-old from Robert Ellis, a former major-league pitcher (and White Sox draft pick in 1990).
He would tell me, If I walk up and youre pitching, I dont want to be able to tell by looking at you if youre up by 10 runs or down by 10 runs. Thats kind of what Ive always tried to keep in mind. And I think it helps because the other team doesnt know if youre having a good day or bad day by looking at your body language.
Saturday afternoon, Humber had the greatest of days. The kind every pitcher dreams about.
There is very little that's perfect in this world, but on this day, one person in the world was.
Humber. Philip Humber.
The world knows him now.