Jay Rainville decided, one day two years ago, to put his right arm to the test.
“I knew immediately that it wasn’t going to happen,” he remarked one recent Friday while standing by the home dugout at Chet Nichols Field.
It was the same right arm that in its heyday produced fastballs that lit up the radar gun and generated a resounding pop from the catcher’s mitt. It was the right arm that enabled this Pawtucket native and Bishop Hendricken alumnus to become a No. 1 draft choice of the Minnesota Twins and unlock the door to the exclusive world of professional baseball.
Five years after getting selected 39th overall in the 2004 draft, Rainville found himself trying to sort through the emotions of a tough-to-swallow reality. His right arm – one that once appeared to be a gift from the baseball gods – had been on borrowed time for a while now.
He had undergone surgery to repair a compressed nerve in his throwing shoulder and missed an entire season as a result. The procedure was supposed to help him get back on the top-flight prospect track. But it yielded less-than-expected returns, made apparent by the constant shoulder pain that robbed him of the mid-90s velocity that defined him as an up-and-comer.
Rainville was made aware by the Twins’ medical staff that another surgery was needed if he desired to press forward. That option didn’t seem enticing, and it became increasingly clear to Rainville that retiring would perhaps be in his best interest. He was 23 in August 2009 when he made the announcement that he was done playing baseball.
A metaphorical weight had been lifted from the shoulders fastened to his burly 6-foot-3 physique. Rainville had no regrets about the decision he made to call it a career. He was at total peace, a state of tranquility that perhaps enabled him to make a transition to the real world that replaced the one he had known for a half-decade.
Time does not stand still, not even for those in an elevated and enhanced position like Rainville, who signed with Minnesota for $875,000. Careers in pro sports come and go all too quickly for most -- the objective being to outlast Father Time so that you can delay those post-playing plans as long as the body remains in working order.
There comes a point, though, when Father Time steps in and reality intervenes. What happens then? Can you adjust to a world where competitive sports of the highest order are no longer an option?
From Rainville’s vantage point, the answer is resoundingly yes.
“Obviously walking away from the game is tough. I thought I was destined to play for a long time, but you’ve got to move on,” says Rainville.
He’s someone who always had a realistic sense about himself. As the end of his short-circuited baseball career rapidly approached, he began looking ahead. Rainville wanted no part of sitting around and brooding, his life becoming defined by regrets rather than possibilities. Getting back in the saddle was the only option.
“The bills don’t stop coming in, so you’ve got to get a job,” he smiles.
Rainville is now a 27-year-old who next month will be retired from baseball for four years. For those who have followed his career closely, it seems like only yesterday that the New Britain Rock Cats, Minnesota’s Double-A affiliate, sent out a release that served as an epitaph for a career that may have been so much more had his shoulder been able to withstand the rigors.
But in the time since leaving baseball, Rainville has conducted a symphony that is an ode to moving ahead and not looking back. Nowadays he goes by Patrolman Jay Rainville of the North Smithfield Police Department. He works third shift, which runs from midnight to 8 a.m.
“I’ve always been interested in law enforcement,” Rainville declares. “I love what I’m doing now.”
And his schedule is flexible enough for him to rekindle his relationship with baseball. Now, instead of standing on the mound and rocking back and dealing, he provides guidance and instruction to the pitchers on Upper Deck Post 86/14. Rainville serves as the pitching coach for the R.I. American Legion Senior Division program.
“I enjoy working with the kids. They’re older, so they understand the game,” he talks about his re-entry into baseball. “It’s easier to tell them some stuff and they actually understand what you’re talking about. You show them and they go out and make the adjustment on their own.”
Even though his right shoulder is a shell of its former self, Rainville still applies strain to it by throwing rounds of batting practice every now and again.
“Terrible,” he grins when asked how the shoulder responds to a motion that used to come so effortlessly.
The same sensation became apparent when Rainville picked up a baseball two years ago. The idea of a comeback was the furthest thing from his mind. In some way, Rainville owed it to himself to turn back the hands of time, albeit for a fleeting moment.
“I knew that time wasn’t going to fix it,” he said.
Standing straight and unified, Rainville looks out at the well-coiffed greens and dirt covering Chet Nichols Field. In a sense, his presence in a baseball environment hints that he’s come full circle. Yes, serving and protecting the citizens of North Smithfield is his profession, a calling card that has come to define him after bidding baseball – in a playing sense – adieu.
He often repeats that he harbors no regrets with how his career ended prematurely. To see him transition and do it so effortlessly is a tribute to a person who refused to throw himself a pity party.
“I was ready to hop into the next career,” he said. “There’s a lot of ballplayers you see that they probably should have hung it up earlier, but just to collect that paycheck, they continue to play. I just never wanted to be that guy. When I knew I couldn’t perform at the level I was performing at, I knew it was time.”
Rainville enrolled in the police academy on March 15, 2010. Normally he would have been in Fort Myers, Fla. at Minnesota’s spring-training complex, gearing up for a new season. Instead, he was strengthening his body and mind for his impending career.
Upon completing the academy, Rainville transitioned into the next phase of police work. He joined the North Smithfield ranks in August 2011 after working as a policemen in Foster.
All the while, Rainville continued to keep in contact with teammates from his minor-league days. If one of them happened to pass through Boston or Pawtucket, he would make it a point to watch them.
As far as becoming involved with the local Legion program, Rainville said he was asked by Upper Deck mentor Steven E. Reynolds if becoming the team’s pitching coach was something that appealed to him. As police chief of North Smithfield’s police department, Reynolds is also Rainville’s boss.
“I thought about it for a few days and said that this is something I could definitely commit to,” said Rainville, who presently lives in Pawtucket. “I’m glad I did.
“Just being around this whole atmosphere is something I definitely do miss.”
Rainville does not go out of his way to specifically talk about his life in pro baseball with the Upper Deck pitchers he oversees. That hasn’t stopped him from imparting the major lesson he’s learned.
“Just let them know that you have to play every game like it could be your last. You can’t take it for granted,” he said. “At the same token, you have to enjoy it and play hard and do everything you can to prepare.”
His summertime experience has him talking about becoming even more involved in baseball, perhaps one day becoming a coach at the high school or college level. He knows that his availability will be based around his police duties, but making all the pieces fit is simply part of life, a life that seems to agree with Rainville.
“I’m just not that guy who’s going to sit there and spin the tires,” he declares.
Translation: Life does go on, even for former first-round phenoms.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03