SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Chad Cordero's stomach was queasy. His palms were sweaty. He tossed and turned the night before, unable to get a good-night's sleep.
"I told my wife I was getting butterflies again," Cordero said.
But he felt great.
For the first time since spring 2011, Cordero was on a big league mound, albeit in the Cactus League. Wearing an Angels uniform, the team he grew up rooting for, he was facing big league hitters again.
Despite giving up a home run to Seattle shortstop Brendan Ryan, the first batter Cordero faced when he came on to pitch in the third inning, that setback didn't wipe the smile off his face.
"I felt like a rookie again," said Cordero, who turns 31 on March 18.
Cordero is ready to move forward.
"It reminds me how much I missed the game," Cordero said. "When I came off the mound, my hands were shaking."
Cordero retired the three ensuing Mariners batters, the last two on popups.
Cordero is at Angels Minor League camp, and Monday was a special invite to pitch in a big league exhibition game. He doesn't know if he'll get another invite this spring, but at some point in 2013, he's shooting on being back on a big league roster.
"This is the first step back," said Cordero. "Baseball is in my blood. I missed the game tremendously the last couple of years."
Cordero was once a baseball phenom. His 128 career saves is the fifth-highest total for a pitcher at the age of 25.
A first-round Draft choice out of Cal-State Fullerton in June 2003, he was with Montreal by the end of that season, and then opened 2004 on the Expos' roster. The next year, with the Expos having becoming the Washington Nationals, he led the National League with 47 saves and was an All-Star at the age of 23.
The dream became a nightmare in 2008. Cordero hit a road bump in the game and in life.
Now, however, he's smiling again.
He's been able to move on from the shoulder surgery in 2008 that kept him from attempting a comeback for two years, and it was an abbreviated nine games when he did return with Seattle in 2010.
Cordero has finally dealt with the grief from the Dec. 4, 2010, death of his 11-week-old daughter, Tehya, from Sudden infant death syndrome that derailed his efforts to get into proper shape -- mentally and physically -- for an abbreviated comeback attempt in Toronto, which he followed up with two weeks of independent ball in St. Paul, Minn.
"Mentally, I wasn't with it," he said of the time with Toronto, which included a nine-appearance stint with the Blue Jays' Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas. "When I first stepped away, I doubted myself. I didn't know if I'd come back, but my wife always told me I'd play again, and Larry [Reynolds, his agent] kept in touch. He also said when I was ready, he would help me get back."
The call to Reynolds arrived earlier this month.
The decision, however, was made months earlier.
After the birth of his son, Cooper, in January 2012, Cordero, at the urging of his wife, began to get in shape and lost weight. He shed 37 pounds from the 235 pounds he checked in at during his final days in Washington, and then in August, he called Kazuhiko Tomooka, a conditioning coach who worked with Cordero in Washington.
"He always told me if I still wanted to play to let him know," said Cordero. "I went there in mid-October and got home just before Thanksgiving. We'd work out seven, eight hours a day."
When he returned home, Cordero continued to strengthen his arm, and then, the first week of February, he called Reynolds and said he was pitching in an alumni game at Fullerton and wanted to make a comeback.
"I showed up at the game and he's throwing 92 mph," said Reynolds. "That's what he threw when he was in his prime. I flipped open my cellphone and started recording his two innings. When I got to my car, I called [Angels general manager] Jerry Dipoto and told him he got the first whack at Chad. With all he had been through, the idea of being able to play for a team in his backyard was important. Jerry said based off what I saw he didn't need to see a bullpen [session], he'd take a chance."
It didn't cost the team anything. There was no signing bonus. There was no multiyear contract, just an unpaid invite to Angels Minor League camp.
It was all Cordero wanted, a chance.
And it's not like he arrived as the center of attention.
Manager Mike Scioscia didn't even initially know Cordero was in camp.
"I saw him in the Minor League clubhouse, and he walked by me," said Cordero. "He told me he didn't even recognize me."
But during a recent bullpen session that Scioscia and several staff members observed, Cordero got their attention, and he reinforced that with his one-inning effort on Monday.
"He was like 40 pounds lighter, so I didn't recognize him," said Scioscia, "but once he got on the mound, you could tell it was him."
And that's what Cordero wanted to make sure the Angels got a chance to see.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less