CLEARWATER, Fla. - It was not supposed to happen like this, not after the Phillies drafted him with the 27th overall pick and paid him $1.16 million to join his hometown team, but baseball is like life and Jesse Biddle has learned quite a bit about life. He is 25 now, with a pronounced stubble on his face and the scar of Tommy John surgery along his left elbow.
Biddle jogged Saturday afternoon from the bullpen to the mound at Spectrum Field and entered a game for the first time in 555 days. He wore No. 63 in Braves blue. He threw 19 pitches, nine of them strikes, and struck out a few former teammates.
"The baseball world is pretty funny that way," Biddle said. "And I've had a lot of funny coincidences in my career."
Biddle is no longer a prospect; the former Germantown Friends star could begin another season on the disabled list while the Braves ease him back into a regular workload. He could be a starter. But his path to the majors is probably as a reliever.
He was once the Phillies' top pitching prospect. The mere idea of a local kid raised a Phillies fan one day pitching for them at Citizens Bank Park was enough to draw extra attention. Biddle was a good story during his first four years in the organization when everything unfolded as planned.
Biddle said he does not feel a twinge of emptiness that the original dream died. Nor does he blame the burden of those hometown expectations.
"Honestly, the more I look back on it, the more I realize it was just like anywhere else," Biddle said. "I really believe that. . . . I really don't believe it dictated anything that happened. Any love and support that I got was just friends and family being friends and family.
"I couldn't have asked for anything different from the Phillies or anything different from my support system. It ended up working out the way it did. There's no hard feelings anywhere. I'm really happy with where I'm at. And I know the Phillies organization is looking really good right now."
Biddle's departure was part of a trend for Phillies' draft classes at the turn of the decade. The Phillies have just three players from their 2010 draft still in the organization. They are catchers Cameron Rupp and Chace Numata, and lefty Mario Hollands. The only pre-2010 draftee still with the organization is outfielder Aaron Altherr, who was selected in the ninth round of the 2009 draft.
A new regime, which has collected pitching prospects, viewed Biddle as expendable. He underwent Tommy John surgery on Oct. 14, 2015. The Phillies dealt Biddle to Pittsburgh in February 2016 for well-traveled reliever Yoervis Medina, whose stint with the Phillies lasted all of four innings on a rehab assignment with the rookie-ball Gulf Coast League team.
The Phillies did not see the value in carrying Biddle on the 40-man roster knowing that he would not pitch in 2016. The Pirates eventually reached the same conclusion.
But Atlanta was willing. The Braves won a waiver claim on Biddle and paid him $507,500 to not pitch. He earned a full year of big-league service time while recovering from surgery.
"It was mostly a sign they had a lot of faith in me," Biddle said.
Biddle did not know he would face the Phillies until the day before. So he texted Tommy Joseph on Friday night. A little trash talk. Joseph, of course, was the first batter Biddle faced in the fourth inning Saturday. He walked on five pitches, with most of them high and away.
Biddle shook his head. Then he fanned Dylan Cozens on a fastball. He ran a full count against Altherr, then blew a 94-mph fastball past him. He induced a weak groundout from J.P. Crawford. The first hurdle, after months and months of rehab, was cleared.
"Today was just your average day for a lot of us," Joseph said. "But not for him."
Before he threw, Biddle recalled the moment he was no longer a Phillie. Scott Proefrock, the team's assistant general manager, called to inform Biddle of the trade to Pittsburgh. He did not expect it.
"It was a very interesting feeling," Biddle said. "But once I got there, and I actually put on a different uniform, I realized that there are 29 other teams. There are a lot of really good coaches out there. I found my way to the Braves, and it feels like home."