The Angels had Madson in 2013, signing him to an incentive-laden contract in hopes that he would be their closer one year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. But it never worked out. Madson never threw a pitch in the Major Leagues, got released in early August and sat out all of the 2014 season before his improbable comeback with the Royals this year.
"The only thing that I think about is disappointment that I wasn't able to pitch for them, because that's where I wanted to play my whole life," Madson said when asked about facing the Angels for the first time. "Just disappointment. Not in any direction, just in general, that I didn't get to perform for that team and in the role that they wanted me to. That's all. Nothing else I could've done at that time because I just didn't know."
The 2015 season marks the end of a three-year hiatus for Madson, who was last seen as the dominant closer on a 2011 Phillies team that won 102 games. He signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Reds in January 2012 -- after a four-year contract with the Phillies fell apart -- and tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow that March, prompting a procedure that typically carries a 12-month recovery for relievers.
The Angels took a chance on him with a base salary of $3.5 million in November 2012, but Madson threw one inning for Class A Advanced Inland Empire around the middle of May 2013 and nothing else.
Angels doctors at Physiotherapy in Tempe, Ariz., were never able to get him right.
"They fix the normal cases," Madson said. "I was an abnormal case. I needed something out of the box. I needed something non-traditional to get over the hump."
Madson found that near the end of his tenure with the Angels at EVO UltraFit, a biomechanical facility in Phoenix that got his arm functioning properly. Madson tried out for teams in January 2014, but ultimately opted to be with his wife, who had just given birth to the couple's fifth child. Two full years of rehab "had taken so much out of me that I was just tired," Madson said. "I didn't feel like playing anymore. I was 99 percent sure that I was done."
Madson got motivated again while working with a local product near his Temecula, Calif., home, then impressed teams in bullpen sessions the following winter, signed a Minor League contract with the Royals in January and, at 34 and four years removed from competitive baseball, entrenched himself as an important middle reliever in a dominant bullpen.
Earlier this year, Madson teamed with Joe Blanton, yet another unsuccessful experiment with the Angels in 2013. Blanton went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA that season, then spent most of the following year out of baseball, came back with the Royals and posted a 3.89 ERA in 41 2/3 innings before moving to the Pirates in July.
"That was unbelievable," Madson said of teaming with Blanton again. "I don't think most people would really understand, but it was pretty cool.
"Our stories are so similar. He just took one year off, and I took a couple."