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Turnaround wasn’t from the mound

Aaron Laffey, left, kids around with Albuquerque Isotopes teammate Kyle Parker before the start of Friday's game. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Aaron Laffey, left, kids around with Albuquerque Isotopes teammate Kyle Parker before the start of Friday’s game. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

He loved playing at Isotopes Park and enjoyed the city of Albuquerque as well. Sure, former major leaguer Aaron Laffey was pitching Triple-A baseball, but even that wasn’t a huge issue.

Yet, Laffey looks back at 2013, his previous stint with the Isotopes, as one of the worst years of his life.

Until it became one of his best.

“It was awful,” said Laffey, who along with outfielder Roger Bernadina are the only current Isotopes who were on the team previously. “When I was here in 2013, it was a bad year for me from start to finish statistically. I was horrible. But I learned some things about my pitching, and tried to make some mechanical adjustments that really helped me the following year.”

More importantly, Laffey says he made some life adjustments, and learned much more about the big picture.

“In 2013, I kind of just call it my coming back to Christ,” he said. “I never left it, but He wasn’t on my priority list, and I like to say that He kind of punched me in the face. I was close to being out of baseball. … But even when I was released last year, just having that trust and faith in God gave me peace. I had no regrets. If my baseball career was done, it was done and I would plan the next phase of my life.”

That career, however, is back on track. As is Laffey’s spirituality, which he feels is not a coincidence.

The lefty reliever made his first appearance of the season during the Isotopes’ 7-3 loss to Reno on Saturday, and got off to a shaky start. He came in with a man on base and two outs in the top of the fifth, then allowed four straight hits with one run charged to him. But he got Evan Marzilli to ground out to end the inning with the bases loaded, then retired the side in order in the sixth before leaving for a pinch hitter.

The affable Laffey was a two-sport prep standout in Cumberland, Md., and committed to play baseball for Virginia Tech before signing with the Cleveland Indians out of high school in 2003.

He raced up the Indians ladder and to the big leagues in 2007, being named American League rookie of the month. But he spent the next three years ping-ponging between Cleveland and the minors and was traded to Seattle in 2011.

Laffey’s career has taken him through 11 organizations – one twice – and he has bounced between the majors and minors like a roulette ball. This year, that ball landed with the Colorado Rockies, the parent club of the Isotopes for the first year.

“We signed him because we knew he was going to serve as a great depth piece for the major league club,” Zach Wilson, the Rockies senior director of player development, said. “He certainly has major league experience and he’s played in the (Pacific Coast League) and knows what that’s all about, too. We’ve got to have guys like him that are eventually going to help us at the major league level.”

In his turn with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013, Laffey was 4-3 with a 5.61 earned run average and was released in July. He signed with Milwaukee later that year and then Baltimore in 2014, but he was released prior to the season.

But with his renewed faith and some new pitching techniques, he later signed with the Washington Nationals and had a stellar season for the Nats’ Triple-A team in Syracuse, going 12-6. He then signed with Colorado in November.

“I never thought I would be one of those guys who bounced from organization to organization,” he said. “But over the years, you learn a lot about the business side of it. And I’m really excited to be in this organization and being back here. It’s a great stadium and a great place.

“They told me coming out of camp, they see a lot of value in me,” he said of the Rockies. “In Denver, that long-man (relief) role is valuable. They want me to get comfortable with that role here.”

Laffey, who turns 30 on Wednesday, insists that getting comfortable with another bunch is no longer a problem, and he thinks it’s more than fate that brought him back to Albuquerque – where he can help teammates get comfortable as well.

“Aaron and I really hit it off right away,” said Albuquerque pitcher John Lannan, who has pitched eight seasons in the majors to Laffey’s seven. “Our first conversation was a real good one, and we hold each other accountable. I think we both lead by example.”

Laffey, says his parents Steve and Jeanie Laffey came from strong Christian families and set an example for him. He says he’s always been a Christian, but that wasn’t his biggest priority while his career skyrocketed into the bigs. And he wasn’t nearly as approachable.

“When I was younger, I was more closed off,” he said. “And I was letting baseball determine who I was. It’s easy to get frustrated when you’re bouncing around and you feel like you’re not getting the opportunity you think you deserve. You start thinking that statistics define you. But, as (former major league manager) Eric Wedge used to say, ‘Baseball is what you do, not who you are.’

“I’ve kind of taken the path now that maybe this is what’s meant to be. I’m going to bounce around, I’m going to develop relationships and I’m going to be as much of a positive impact with all the guys I can.”

topes today for 4.12Laffey, who says he held Bible studies in the pregame locker room with more than half of the team’s players last year in Syracuse, said he is now trying to share his experience with the Isotopes – and the world. He devotes his Facebook page to his family – wife of 7½ years Jackie, sons Braeden (age 4) and Ashton (3) and 6-week-old daughter Peyton – God and positivity.

“With social media, now you can reach thousands of people with the click of a button,” he said. “… Facebook and Twitter can be ugly things; a lot of people air a lot of dirty laundry about themselves or somebody else. I’ve tried my best to remove myself from it, and not make it about myself but about the Lord.”

Laffey says he loves speaking to youth groups about the Bible, anti-bullying and other topics – and will do much more of it after his career, while being “transparent and approachable.” The way he sees it, being a ballplayer is one heck of a good life. And a great way to spread the Good Word.

“I’m blessed to play for a living,” he said. “You come to quickly realize in a situation like I’ve been the last couple of years, this game owes you nothing. This game has gone on for a hundred-plus years before any of us were here, and is going to go on hundreds and hundreds of years after us.”

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