Steve Sparks

A typical knuckleballer, Steve W. Sparks (a namesake pitched three games with the Pirates in 2000) has conquered the odds and bloomed at the very ripe baseball age of 35. In the minors, the righty had a history of arm trouble and seemed to have topped out at Double-A. But then he took the advice of his pitching coach, former major-league reliever Bill Castro, and concentrated on the butterfly. He had a chance to make the Brewers out of spring training in 1994, but after attending a motivational seminar, Sparks dislocated his left shoulder trying to rip a phone book in half — erroneously thought to be the reason he turned to the knuckler. Steve scuffled over the 1995-2000 period. He missed the ’97 campaign with an injured elbow — incurred when he tried to hold up a throw in the field — and spent several stretches in the minors. But he achieved greater command over his elusive bread-and-butter pitch in 2001. With the Detroit Tigers, he hit double digits in wins for the first time in his career, going 14-9, and led the majors with eight complete games. His career-best effort came on June 19, as he mesmerized the Yankees, posting a complete-game three-hitter on an astoundingly low 85 pitches. Said catcher Brandon Inge of the 50-mph floaters, “it was like trying to catch a fly with chopsticks.”