DALLAS - Somewhere on David Nied's journey from promise to stardom, reality pulled him off to the side the road and whispered a little friendly advice in his ear: Take your ball and glove and go home.
Five Novembers ago, Nied was the fresh-faced future of a bustling new baseball enterprise in Colorado. Now another expansion draft has rolled around, and he's too preoccupied with life to notice.
Tuesday in Phoenix, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks spent the better part of 12 hours making selections that will help determine their futures. Nied, a right-handed pitcher chosen No. 1 overall by the Colorado Rockies in the 1992 draft, is only mildly curious.
He and his wife, Malissa, are busy raising two young sons. They're building a new house in the Dallas suburb of Cedar Hill, and he's working 10-hour days as a sales representative for Cylinder Heads International, the Grand Prairie, Texas, business owned and operated by his father, Glen.
Nied, tired of injuries and struggles, retired from baseball in March when the Cincinnati Reds tried to send him to their Class AA farm club in Chattanooga, Tenn. He spent the summer trying to kick the game cold turkey.
"I miss the people in the game," Nied said. "But my last couple of years, I saw my talent deteriorate. It rubbed me raw so bad, I said I didn't care about picking up a baseball again. I still feel that way."
When Nied's old teammates, the Rockies, came to Texas to play the Rangers in July, outfielder Ellis Burks called him at work to see if he might drop by the clubhouse for a visit. Nied politely declined.
"This might sound a little rude," Nied said. "But I told myself I was going to stay away from the park this year just to make the transition a lot smoother. For so many years, the guys on my team were my life. I wanted to give it a year to get the game out of my system. Now I have, and I can be a fan again."
In baseball circles, it's fashionable to label Nied a failure. After Colorado began the draft by picking Nied off the Atlanta Braves' unprotected list, Florida chose Toronto minor-league outfielder Nigel Wilson with the second pick. Marlin general manager David Dombrowski later said he would have taken Nied if he had still been on the board.
Nied had some unforgettable moments in the summer of 1993. He lost 3-0 to Dwight Gooden at Shea Stadium in Colorado's first game. In his next start, a 9-5 victory over Montreal at Denver, 65,261 fans were in attendance at Mile High Stadium.
After going 5-9 with a 5.17 ERA in his first full major-league season, Nied improved to 9-7, 4.80 in 1994. He showed impressive concentration in the process.
Malissa was accompanying him on a road trip to New York in June when she gave birth to the couple's first child, son Tanner, more than three months premature. Tanner weighed 1 pound, 6 ounces at birth, and David spent the next two months making visits to a New York hospital to see his wife and son between starts.
Nied's career downfall began in earnest in the spring of 1995, when he hurt his elbow in Arizona while trying to come back too quickly from the players strike.
"I was so excited and gung-ho about building on what I did the year before, I aired it out within 15 minutes the first time I threw," Nied said. "If somebody had held me back, maybe things would have been different. I was so excited, I don't think you could have held me back."
Nied was never the same. He tinkered constantly with his mechanics to compensate for his arm trouble, and tried to rehabilitate himself in minor-league towns from Salem, Virginia, to Colorado Springs, Colorado. He pitched a total of 9 2/3 innings in the big leagues with Colorado in 1995 and 1996.
The Reds took a chance on Nied in the spring of 1997. When they asked him to accept a demotion to the Southern League, he decided it was time to retire.
Nied was one of the more notable blemishes in an impressive Colorado draft. The Rockies selected Vinny Castilla, Charlie Hayes, Joe Girardi, Willie Blair, Kevin Ritz and Steve Reed, among others, and pulled off a draft-day coup when they acquired Dante Bichette from Milwaukee in a trade for Kevin Reimer.
Colorado general manager Bob Gebhard is convinced that Nied would have been an effective No. 4 or 5 starter in the big leagues if he had stayed healthy.
"He was the right guy," Gebhard said. "It's just unfortunate that he broke down. The expectations had nothing to do with it. In the first year, when the expectations were highest, he was a pretty good pitcher for us."
Nied's legacy in Denver transcends his 14-18 record with the Rockies. He was the organization's first poster boy and a media favorite. When the press clippings turned to dust, he never snapped or lost his poise. "They don't come any better than David Nied," Rockies owner Jerry McMorris said.
At 29, Nied has loads of perspective to pass on to his young sons. Tanner has recovered from his slow start and is now a healthy, active three-year-old. "He runs around so much, you'd never even know what he went through," Nied said.
The Nieds Nied named their second boy Coltin Tyler, because they liked the rugged, Wild-West feel to the name. Coltin was born May 28.
Nied said he doesn't care if his sons grow up to be ballplayers, professional golfers or accountants. From experience, he understands how tenuous a career path can be.
One day a man is throwing fastballs before 65,000 fans. The next day he's selling cylinder heads for a living.
"I guess I was supposed to be more successful in baseball than I was," Nied said. "But I'm not going to dwell on that the rest of my life.
"I have a great family, and I've been lucky enough to fall back on a good job. I had a good time playing ball. I was lucky. I was fortunate. That's the way I look at it."