Howell and Belcher were teammates with the Los Angeles Dodgers a few years ago. They were reunited at the Homestead complex and have spent the past three weeks trying to make sense of a strange and unsettling situation.
"We're not delusional," Belcher said. "Jay is 39. If this is the end, it's certainly not the end of the world. It's a little different for me. The experts might hold out a little more hope for me to continue."
Belcher is 33. He had an awful year last year -- the losingest pitcher in the American League at 7-15 -- but he still has a winning career record (84-78) and a very respectable 3.69 lifetime ERA. He had shoulder surgery four years ago but was healthy enough in 1994 to rank among the league's hardest-working pitchers with 162 innings.
"I've got to believe that with 28-man rosters and most teams going with 12 or 13 pitchers, that there is room for some of the guys who are here," he said. "That's nearly 400 pitchers. You can't tell me that some of these guys aren't among the top 400 pitchers in baseball."
They aren't all thirtysomething fringe veterans. Former Texas Rangers prospect Dan Peltier is 26 years old and thought he had a future in the game. That's why he told the Rangers he would not play alongside strikebreakers this spring. Two weeks later, they told him to pack his bags, though no one will admit that his pro-union stance cost him a job.
"It's unfortunate all the way around," Peltier said. "They ask you to cross and you say no because you think you have a future, but if you say no, they won't let you have a future. To have that happen was pretty lousy."
Nevertheless, Peltier is planning to attend tonight's season opener between the Florida Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers, even though he says it might be uncomfortable to be on the outside looking in.
"It's going to be tough," he said. "It's tough just watching ESPN and seeing everybody playing and knowing that you're not."
It's toughest on the young guys, of course, because they have not been around long enough to acquire any financial security. Lonnie Smith can go home to his four children and take advantage of the opportunity to make up for all the family time he missed during his lengthy major-league career. It's different if you have to cope with the uncertainty of starting a new career.
"You think of all those years when you were at spring training and you were worrying about whether you were going to be sent down to Triple-A," said journeyman pitcher Bruce Walton, who came to Homestead after he was released by the Colorado Rockies. "Relative to this, that looks pretty good right now.
"It will be strange to go home without a job. It hasn't really hit me yet. I don't think that it will. I've been hit so hard the last couple of months, I don't think I'd even feel it."