Bobby credits his dad, Ed Crosby, a former big leaguer himself, for keeping the idea alive.
"Every now and then he would say, 'Hey, Bob, are you thinking about giving it another go?'" Crosby said. "Obviously, he wanted me to come back. Then my wife would ask me, too, 'Do you have any desire to go back to playing?' And the answer was always, 'No.'"
It was "no" because Crosby was satisfied with life after baseball. He'd been smart with the nearly $14 million he'd earned in the game and suddenly had unlimited time with his sons, 3-year-old Tyler and 1-year-old Dylan. He spent so much time at Orange County's Coto de Caza Golf & Racquet Club that he played to a plus-one handicap. He taught a few private lessons for a high school infielder. He traveled a bit. He never picked up a bat.
"I was at the end," Crosby said. "I was completely content."
Until the day dad and son were chatting at a family reunion last fall. Ed Crosby remarked how fit his son was looking.
"I told him, 'I don't know if you're thinking of making a comeback, but if you are, this is the time to do it,'" Ed Crosby said last week via telephone. "'If you wait longer than two years, you're going to be forgotten.'"
This time, Bobby heard himself saying, "Maybe."
* * * * *
When he retired in 2010, Bobby Crosby's career seemed to end as quickly as it began. He was a first-round Draft pick of the A's in 2001, in the big leagues by the end of '03 and AL Rookie of the Year in '04, after the A's opened shortstop for Crosby by letting Miguel Tejada leave via free agency. Crosby made 151 starts that year, hit 22 home runs with 64 RBIs and out-polled a group of AL rookies that included the Royals' Zack Greinke.
So what if Crosby's .239 average was the lowest ever for a Rookie of the Year Award winner? The A's won 91 games, the fifth straight season they'd topped 90 wins, Crosby was 23 and Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Dan Haren were all 28 or younger.
"I went to as many of those games as I could," said Brewers outfielder Logan Schafer, who grew up an A's fan near San Jose, Calif., and, if things turn out right, could join Crosby on the Brewers' bench. "I liked how, collectively, they were able to bring up all of this young talent and contend. They were just a fun team to watch."
(An aside: Schafer introduced himself to Crosby last week by saying thank you. Schafer used a Bobby Crosby model T141 baseball bat, a gift from one of Schafer's college coaches, during his pre-Draft workout at Miller Park in 2008. It must have gone well, because the Brewers made Schafer their third-round pick.)
Yet the years after his AL Rookie win were filled with frustration for Crosby, who topped 100 games only once in the next seven seasons. He broke an ankle, broke some ribs and fractured a vertebra in his back, and each time lamented how long it took A's doctors to identify the injury.
Eighty-four games in 2005. Ninety-six games in '06, when the spinal fracture kept Crosby out of the playoffs. Ninety-three games in '07. He did play 145 games in '08, but the A's signed Orlando Cabrera the following winter to play shortstop and moved Crosby to a utility role, then let him go. Crosby split 2010 between the Pirates and D-backs, hitting .220 in just 189 at-bats.
Suddenly, the offers were Minor League deals with a chance to attend big league camp. So Crosby walked away from baseball, an able-bodied 30-year-old.
"In my heart, I always thought he quit too early," said Ed Crosby, who played six seasons for the Cardinals, Reds and Indians before a long career in scouting. "But the thing is, with my three sons I never pushed them to do anything they didn't feel like doing. It was his decision."
Said Bobby: "I just didn't have the desire to go grind it out anymore. And I knew if you didn't have it, the guy in the locker next to you does. I decided I was done."
He was completely content with the decision.
Until the day he changed his mind.
"I wish I could tell you there was some crazy moment," Crosby said. "The truth is, it wasn't that. But the more I thought about it, it was, 'Yeah, I'm going to do this.'"
So he began hitting the gym with more purpose, and taking swings at an indoor batting cage with a neighbor from four or five doors down. The guy's name is Rod Carew, and you may have heard of him.
Carew, a Hall of Famer and seven-time AL batting champion, encouraged Crosby to go for it. So he began brushing away the defensive cobwebs, taking grounders with Santa Margarita Catholic High School's baseball team. The school's coach, Dave Bacani, once played at Cal State Fullerton and was a rival of Crosby, from Long Beach State. They later forged a friendship.
"It came back quick," Crosby said. "Quicker than I thought it would."
When Gina Crosby asked her husband the other day how Brewers camp was going, Bobby explained it like this: "It felt more normal to be back than it felt to be away. It felt right."
* * * * *
Crosby's agent is Paul Cohen, and Crosby is not the first Cohen client to move into a locker at Maryvale Baseball Park and mount a comeback.
That's no coincidence.
"I'm not a believer in coincidences, anyway," Cohen said from his office in California. "I think everything happens for a reason."
In 2008, Cohen client Gabe Kapler returned from a season managing in the Minor Leagues to sign with the Brewers. He won a job in camp and batted .301 before an injury ended his season. Two years later, Jim Edmonds made a similar comeback after using a year away to recover from leg injuries. He started in right field for the Brewers on Opening Day.
Cohen orchestrated a similarly successful comeback for Troy Percival with the Cardinals in 2007.
So when Crosby called in December, "I wasn't shocked," Cohen said. "He walked away at such an early age, and I felt like he had been beat down a little mentally. I thought he would be back.
"When he called me, I told him, 'I'll set up workouts for you, but you have to commit to be totally ready to go.' I could hear in his voice the same thing I heard from those other guys -- he was ready. Some guys miss the clubhouse or they miss the paycheck, and then some guys miss the game. Bobby missed the game."
Given the history with Kapler and Edmonds, it was natural for Cohen to call Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. And wouldn't you know it? The Brewers were going with young Jean Segura at shortstop and were in the market for middle infielders.
Melvin assured Cohen that if the Brewers brought him in, Crosby would have a legitimate opportunity to make the team. Given their personal history over the last two decades, Cohen believed it.
"We've lived it twice before," Cohen said.
First, Melvin had to be sure Crosby could play.
So he dispatched three Brewers scouts -- West Coast crosschecker Corey Rodriguez and area scouts Josh Belovsky and Dan Huston -- to watch Crosby hit and field grounders in Southern California.
"That was the only thing I needed to know -- work him out and make sure he was in shape and still had the hand-eye coordination," Melvin said. "[Cohen] told me about his desire. Sometimes players need to get out of the game for a little while to realize that desire is still there."
* * * * *
Like Kapler and Edmonds before him, Crosby signed a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Crosby could earn $800,000 in the Majors, plus $25,000 each for 25 and 40 games played, $50,000 each for 60 and 80 games played, plus $50,000 for 30 and 50 starts and $100,000 apiece for 70 and 90 starts.
Like Kapler and Edmonds before him, Crosby will have to play his way onto the team. That has proven difficult so far because Crosby has been nursing a minor quadriceps strain, delaying his debut in a game. On Sunday, he was "99.9 percent sure" that he'd be ready to play on Tuesday against Team Canada.
He has competition in camp on a variety of fronts. When the Brewers re-signed Alex Gonzalez to be Segura's backup, it limited Crosby's options, but now injuries have created an early-season opening at first base, and Crosby and Gonzalez are candidates at that position, too. Crosby indicated he would go to the Minors if asked, though he's hoping the question never comes up.
Crosby's locker is in a corner of the clubhouse with Corey Hart and Ryan Braun, but right next to Crosby's No. 2 is No. 3 Scooter Gennett, the Brewers' second-base prospect who was 11 years old when the A's drafted Crosby. Crosby figures Gennett looks at him the same way Crosby once eyed 30-something Scott Hatteberg -- "God, that guy's old."
Crosby feels young again after two years away. The time on the golf course and in the backyard with his kids cleared his mind.
"I feel like I'm 21," Crosby said, "and I know I want to play baseball again."