Colabello’s Record RBI Season Only a Start With European Championships, Mexico Next for Former Can-Am Star
Chris Colabello’s run from being last season’s Independent Player of the Year (Baseball America) to setting a new team record for runs batted in during his first affiliated season to earning runner-up honors as the Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player is little short of miraculous. It also has given the 28-year-old first baseman a full plate of baseball for this fall and winter and very likely into the spring.
In 24 hours after Minnesota’s Class AA New Britain (CT) Rock Cats had been eliminated (by one game) for an Eastern League playoff spot, the Massachusetts native and onetime magna cum laude student at Assumption College, who had spent seven years in the Can-Am League before the Twins finally came calling last offseason, was on an airplane headed to Rotterdam, Holland, to play for defending champion Italy in the European Championships.
When that event is over, Colabello will have a short break before starting winter baseball in Mexico, and that seems likely to be followed by joining Italy for the World Baseball Classic unless the Twins, his No. 1 priority, step up with something like a 40-man roster spot or a non-roster invitation to major league training camp in Fort Myers, FL.
So Colabello, who exudes modesty, can take his all-Eastern League honors, his .284-19-98 season which earned MVP recognition in New Britain, and the knowledge he was MVP runner-up to 38-home run all-star first baseman Darin Ruf of Reading, PA (Philadelphia) as he continues trying to climb into a major league opportunity.
Colabello’s Dad Has a Souvenir Reminder From Will Clark
The opportunity to play for Italy has to have a great feel, too, because Colabello’s teacher father Lou was a longtime pitcher for the same team (1977-85), including World Championship triumphs in ’77, ’79, ’83 and the first Olympic year for baseball in 1984.
Former San Francisco slugger Will Clark took a lefty delivery from Lou Colabello out of Dodger Stadium, and Clark and Chris Colabello somehow got into a discussion about the home run this spring when the Rock Cats were visiting the Giants’ Double-A team in Richmond, VA. Never one to be shy about his hitting ability, Clark, now a roving instructor for San Francisco, eagerly signed a baseball for the elder Colabello which says: “You hang ’em, I bang ’em.”
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Five More Former Indy Hurlers Back in Majors
Pitching has once again been the name of the game for Independent players getting September opportunities in the major leagues. Five players have been tabbed so far, all of them hurlers, with Brandon Kintzler (Milwaukee) and Dane De La Rosa (Tampa Bay) especially heart-warming stories.
Kintzler, whose contract was purchased by the Brewers after two seasons in Winnipeg (then in the Northern League) and going 8-3 in the American Association (St. Paul, MN) in ’09, was not even certain he would be pitching this season after having a screw surgically inserted into his elbow last season and being shut down again in spring training, then admitting it was “humbling” to be back in Class AA after making it to the majors last season. Milwaukee even took him off the 40-man roster (June 28), but the right-hander eventually knew “I just needed to keep throwing”, he told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “My velocity eventually came back.”
De La Rosa, an Independent vet with time in the Atlantic League (Southern Maryland), American Association (El Paso, TX) and four Golden League teams, got an early-April call from the Rays, but after one disastrous inning (five runs) at Boston he was shipped back to Triple-A Durham, NC. “I’ve got to get more consistent, get a little earlier start”, he recapped to The Durham Herald Sun after picking up his 20th save of the season (0-4, 2.79) a few days ago while protecting a 2-0 lead and having Manager Charlie Montoyo call it his “biggest save of the year”.
Tanner Scheppers, who started in Indy baseball with St. Paul, is back in the Texas bullpen, Dylan Axelrod (Windy City, Frontier League) has rejoined the Chicago White Sox and Justin Hampson (York, PA and Long Island, NY, Atlantic League) is up for his second stint with the New York Mets to make it 24 players formerly in the non-affiliated ranks who are on active rosters or major league disabled lists.
(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball. Fans may subscribe for 2012 at reduced rates at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy his blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, or comment to RWirz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball public relations experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners and lives in Stratford, CT.)