Colabello grateful after taking wild path to Majors
Big league debut nearly put on hold when bus crashed hours after callup
DETROIT -- Chris Colabello never thought it would be easy. Not after all the hard work he put in playing seven years in the independent Canadian-American League without any clear path to the big leagues.
So Colabello wasn't surprised when a car crashed into Triple-A Rochester's team bus at 3 a.m. as it headed back from Lehigh Valley, Pa., to Rochester, N.Y., so he could catch his flight to Atlanta to finally fulfill his lifelong dream of making it to the Majors.
"I just figured it would be hard because it's how things have been for me my whole life," Colabello said with a smile. "If things would've gone smoothly, it wouldn't have been for me."
The 29-year-old journeyman had just found out two hours earlier, at 1 a.m. ET, that he'd be joining the Twins on Wednesday morning with Trevor Plouffe being placed on the seven-day disabled list with concussion-like symptoms. Colabello was in the middle of a game of cards with a few teammates when Rochester manager Gene Glynn interrupted and gave him the good news -- that he would be heading to the Major Leagues for the first time.
"It was a little bit of shock, a little bit of tears, a little bit of laughter -- so a lot of emotions, I guess," Colabello said. "Everyone was so thrilled. To be able to share that with those guys and to see the excitement that a lot of those guys on the bus had for me was one of the things that was the most special about the moment."
Colabello was given his itinerary -- he'd be departing on a 6:25 a.m. Delta flight to Atlanta to make it in time for the Twins' noon game against the Braves -- and with the bus scheduled to arrive at 4 a.m., he figured he'd have plenty of time. But the bus crash changed those plans, and Colabello didn't even arrive at the airport until 5:47 a.m. Thankfully, he was able to get through security just in time to make the flight.
Colabello caught a few hours of sleep on the plane and arrived at Turner Field to find out he'd be making his Major League debut in right field and batting sixth. It didn't go quite the way he wanted -- he went 0-for-4 at the plate in an 8-3 loss -- but he was still overjoyed by the experience.
"It was everything I could've imagined it to be," Colabello said. "You obviously hope you come up and help the team win and be productive, but overall it was an amazing experience."
It was simply the moment Colabello had been waiting for after seven years playing in the independent Can-Am League with his only taste of affiliated ball coming in 2006 as a non-roster invite in Spring Training by the Tigers in Minor League camp.
A Milford, Mass., native, Colabello starred for the local Worcester Tornadoes, including a breakout year in '11, when he hit .348 with a 1.010 OPS en route being named the league's MVP and Baseball America's Independent League Player of the Year.
Colabello finally got his chance to join a big league organization when Minnesota came calling after the '11 season, and he ended up putting up monster numbers at Double-A New Britain last year. He hit .284 with 19 homers and 98 RBIs in 134 games to finish as the runner-up in the Eastern League MVP Award balloting.
That carried over into an impressive stint with Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, and Colabello proved he could do it at the Triple-A level, too, hitting .358 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs in 46 games with the Red Wings. His play with Rochester essentially forced the Twins' hand, as the natural first baseman also took reps in right field for three weeks to improve his versatility with Justin Morneau blocking his path at first base.
"He was killing it down there," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Just absolutely killing it. And Gene Glynn told me he was doing fine in right field."
So after all those years of people telling him that his dream was just that -- a dream -- Colabello was able to make it a reality.
"People asked how long I was going to do and how long I was going to keep going with no clear path, but I think I used that as fuel," Colabello said. "I don't take no for an answer very well. It's part of my makeup."
Colabello's teammates have noticed that drive, too, especially reliever Caleb Thielbar, who was his roommate during Spring Training and also took the unusual path to the big leagues via the independent leagues. But Thielbar, called up just two days before Colabello, is most impressed by Colabello's persistence, as Thielbar only pitched one year with the independent St. Paul Saints before signing with the Twins in '11.
"It's awesome, especially for him," Thielbar said. "He spent a lot more time there than I did. His story is pretty crazy. It's unbelievable. I can't fathom doing that; just wondering if you're ever gonna get a shot."
So for Colabello, his story has a fairytale ending, as he can now always call himself a big leaguer after playing on Wednesday. But now he wants to prove he can stick with Minnesota despite his long and unorthodox road to the Majors.
"I believe in my ability to play the game, I know that," Colabello said. "It's something I wished for for seven years. As much as I loved playing the game in indy ball, I've always wanted to see if I could do it here."