It was late February 2009, and the phone call flicked across this Spring Training town northwest of Phoenix from Bruce Chen's house to Rene Francisco at the Royals' complex.

Chen: "Rene, I'm getting ready for the World Baseball Classic, would you guys let me throw at your complex?"

Francisco: "Where do you live?"

Chen: "Right here, in Surprise."

Francisco: "Sure, just come on over."

Chen: "And, by the way, I'm looking for a job. I'm a free agent."

Francisco: "We'll come and watch you throw."

Francisco, the Royals' assistant general manager/international operations, smiled when he recalled the conversation.

"And the rest is history," Francisco said.

Good history for the Royals. Because the next morning -- March 1, 2009 -- Francisco and several other officials watched Chen, who hadn't pitched the year before, throw a bullpen session. Before the day was over, Chen signed a contract, and he has been winning games for Kansas City ever since.

It took Chen a while to get going. After all, he had missed most of 2007 and all of '08 because of an elbow ailment that required Tommy John surgery. By then, the left-hander was 30 years old and a 10-year big league veteran who'd already pitched for nine teams.

Sure, Chen had thought he might be washed up.

"Numerous times," Chen said. "In 2006, I didn't have a very good year with the Orioles[(0-7, 6.93 ERA]. I signed with Texas, got sent down, got hurt. In 2008, I didn't even pitch. And in 2009, I couldn't find a job until the Royals offered me a contract.