John Foster Interview

John Foster has pitched four scoreless games since being called up from AAA Richmond on April 15.

This past weekend BravesCenter's Bill Shanks sat down with Foster to talk about his rehab from shoulder surgery, his comeback, his return to the major leagues, and he describes in detail what it was like to record his first major league save last week in New York.

SHANKS: Tell me about you surgery last year.
FOSTER: It was in the shoulder. The labrum, rotator cuff, capsule, bone spurs. Just about everything you can do.

SHANKS: When did the Cubs release you?
FOSTER: I talked to my agent about it. They had released me outright when I had my surgery.

SHANKS: Were you rehabbing under their care?
FOSTER: Well workman's comp.

SHANKS: So you called Dayton on March 1st. What did you tell him?
FOSTER: I was just talking about normal stuff at first, and then I was telling him how I was trying to come back. I told him I wasn't 100% yet, but at that point I thought I was at about 80%. I got no pain, and it's only going to get better from there. I said, "I was just wondering if you had a spot for me or if not let me come to spring training to maybe get a spot." And he said, "Alright." Actually it wasn't all right at first. I had to go throw a bullpen. So I threw a bullpen for Roy Clark in Merced, California. So I threw my bullpen and Roy Clark said I looked all right. Then the next day I drove to Florida.

SHANKS: That was a whirlwind in itself.
FOSTER: Oh yeah. It was just good to be with a team, and especially this team. I figured this would be my best career option. They're the only team that truly knows me. They know me from rookie ball all the way to the big leagues, so I figured my best chance would be right here with some team that knows me. They're pretty loyal to their players.

SHANKS: So when you got to spring training, did you feel yourself improving from the 80% you thought you were at?
FOSTER: Oh yeah. Well I was finally throwing bullpens with feedback. I was finally getting coaches saying, "Hey you're not bringing your arm all the way back." Oh, ok. I thought I was throwing the ball fine, but I wasn't. I was short-arming it. So I just had to go through a couple of pains here and there because I wasn't throwing it real loose. So it was good to get feedback and it started getting better every single time I went out there.

SHANKS: When spring training ended, you didn't really know where you were going did you?
FOSTER: No. I felt great, but I didn't have a suit cause I didn't think I was going to go there. I basically had to go out and buy whole new clothes for Richmond.

SHANKS: When you first got to spring training, where did you hope to go when they broke camp?
FOSTER: Maybe stay at Extended Spring Training or Myrtle Beach. Myrtle Beach was what I was really pulling for. I just really wanted to play again. That was my only thing. It was just so good to be with a team. When I was good enough to break camp, I was like, "Wow this is going to be awesome. This is a good comeback. I've just got to play this year." I thought if I didn't play this year, I'd be finished.

SHANKS: And you really didn't even know that last day of spring training where you were going did you? I remember asking you that day and you didn't know.
FOSTER: True. I know. The best thing about it was…in mid-spring training Dayton came up and he just told me, " Hey don't try and push it. If you don't feel right, just tell us. We're not just going to get rid of you if you're not ready to break camp." That took so much weight off my shoulders. I felt that…not that I could relax, but that I could sit back and try to throw it honestly. Instead of just trying to throw to make the team, I could try to throw it to get it done. So it was really comforting actually.

SHANKS: And when you got to Richmond you did well. I told someone that you were a classic example of how when you get the chance and do well, they reward you. That's really what happened, right?
FOSTER: That's exactly what happened. I had worked twelve months just to get here… just to play again. It was unbelievable. My first outing (in Richmond) I had so many butterflies. It was different from spring training. My first outing I went three and a third innings out of the pen. I was like, "Wow. This is awesome." I had never thrown that many innings.

SHANKS: Could you tell they were testing you?
FOSTER: I could tell they were testing me in spring training. They would have me throw an inning one day, then a day off, then two innings, then two days off, an inning, day off, and then two innings. I have never thrown like that. I haven't even thrown like that in the offseason. So it was good to get in there cause every day I had something new to think about…like following through more, to bring my arm back more, and just everything that I had to bring altogether. By the end I was finally where I needed to be and they thought I was good enough to go.

SHANKS: So how shocked were you to get the call to come to Atlanta?
FOSTER: Oh my God. We were in Scranton. I had just gotten done pitching the day before. So I went out on a run, came back, and the game was over. PK, Pat Kelly, said, "Hey I need to talk to you for a second." I'm thinking the worse right off the bat because they had just signed (actually claimed off waivers) the new guy (Frank Brooks, also a left-handed reliever). I was like, "Oh boy. At least I got my inning in. At least I made my comeback. It's in the books I made it back." He said, "Congratulations you're going to the big leagues." I just sat in the chair and started crying. I was like, "Man it's been such a long year - one year of making no money at all." Zero. Nothing. And just being able to get to the top in one year was something. I was just sitting there with tears in my eyes. PK was like, "Now you're going to make me cry." So it was great.

SHANKS: Did you have any idea it could happen, especially with Tom Martin struggling as the lefty reliever?
FOSTER: You know I stopped thinking about people above me in 2003 when I was playing. It doesn't help. It doesn't help your game. So I really didn't know he was struggling. I really didn't know anything about it; it's just better for me not to know. Then I'd have pressure on me about having to do well because he's doing badly. You just have to keep pitching. So I had no idea. I had no clue. Then you wonder how long you're going to be up there, especially if it's somebody being hurt. But they totally released him, so it's like, "Well I'm the only left-hander here." So I knew I just had to get my job done then.

SHANKS: And now you have to perform?
FOSTER: Yep. Now you have to perform. The better you do, the longer you'll stay. I'll do the best I can.

SHANKS: What was the first save like (in New York on April 27)?
FOSTER: Oh man. There were so many things going through my mind because that was one of the fields (Shea Stadium) that during my childhood that I always wanted to play at. My whole life I wanted to play there. Being able to come in there with the tying run on third, go ahead run at first, and I've got Cliff Floyd up, two outs, it was amazing. Even when I was running in I was like, "Oh my goodness. This is it right here. This is the moment I've been waiting for for a long time." When I was warming up and I got the ball back I could see everybody standing up in the stands. I was like, "Man, this is awesome. This is so fun. Now it's time to get the job done. Do the best you can. Right now. Give it to them." It just happened like that. The first pitch was a ball and the next pitch was a pop up. I was just so happy to get the out. But if I had to do it over again I probably would have celebrated more - give them a little (sound effect).

SHANKS: But you did show emotion and that wasn't just you getting the save, but you showing that you're back.
FOSTER: Yeah, exactly. It was. That was probably be the first (save) and only one I get, but it was more than that. Just everything I had been through and it was like, "Finally, I'm in the books right now." Everything happened unexpectedly, but it happened the way I dreamed about this year.

SHANKS: And you know that once you make an impression, especially with Bobby and Leo, they're going to have faith in you to do more?
FOSTER: Oh yes. This is the most loyal team. They keep their guys. Not many places do that. That's why I came back here, and that's why I will hopefully stay here for a long time.

SHANKS: So physically, how do you feel right now?
FOSTER: I feel good.

SHANKS: Do you think you're at 100%?
FOSTER: I'm pretty close. I'm really, really, really close. As long as I have no pain, it's only going to get better.

SHANKS: People that have been through an injury like yours say that the mental part is the hardest just because you're out for so long. Was that the case with you?
FOSTER: Basically yes. But the thing is, I don't want to try and overwork myself cause then it'll hurt me out there. I can't do my rehab program everyday because I wouldn't be able to throw that well. I could do it three times a week, maybe two times a week. It's tough. It is hard. They say I'm going to be pitching with little impingements, a little pain here and there for a full year. So most of the time after a surgery year you get like a free year (to rehab) and then the next year you're back. But I've come right back.

SHANKS: And now the goal is to stay here and be productive?
FOSTER: Heck, yeah. Do the best I can.

SHANKS: Could you have ever dreamed when you were with Milwaukee that you'd be back here one day?
FOSTER: No. Not really. I thought I was going to be there for a while. When they sent me down and then other stuff happened, like they took me off the roster for what reason I have no idea. After that, I've always wanted to be back with the Braves.

Bill Shanks has a new book coming out later this month called Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. It will be on the bookshelves May 20th. You can reach Bill at

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