The minor league players passing through Hadlock Field bring their own stories. For some this is just a steppingstone on a sure path to the majors. For others it’s the end of a career, when they’ve gone as far as they can as a pro baseball player.
Then there are the unknowns, the mystery tales of players like Chris Colabello.
“It really is a great story,” said Rich Gedman, hitting coach for the Portland Sea Dogs. “A story about a young boy’s desire to play in the big leagues.”
Colabello played at Hadlock in 2012 with his team, the New Britain Rock Cats. He was 28 and in his first year of affiliated pro baseball after seven seasons languishing in the independent leagues. If Colabello’s career ended in 2012 it would have been considered a success, just for perseverance.
But Colabello kept playing. Last week he was named the American League’s co-player of the week along with Josh Hamilton after batting .391 (9 for 23) with four doubles, one home run, 11 RBI and four runs over six games.
Hamilton, 32, is an eight-year pro on a multiyear $125 million contract.
Colabello is a 30-year-old rookie.
Colabello’s success and determination becomes a beacon for those grinding through the minors. And before a game this past week between New Britain and Portland, two of his managers reminisced with pride and joy.
“One of my all-time favorite players,” said Rock Cats Manager Jeff Smith, in his fifth year with the Twins’ Double-A affiliate. “What a great young man to have on the team and in the clubhouse. … Chris was hungry. He took every at-bat as a challenge. I think everyone else thrived off him.”
Colabello, from Milton, Mass., played college ball for Division II Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. He became one of the school’s all-time hit leaders (202) but didn’t get drafted in 2005 nor signed as a free agent. Colabello opted to play for the Worcester Tornadoes of the independent Can-Am League.
Gedman, the former Red Sox catcher, was manager.
Colabello, a corner infielder and outfielder, batted .320 his first year. The Tigers invited him to spring training in 2006 but cut him. Colabello returned to the Can-Am League and stayed, batting over .300 every season.
“There are plenty of guys who do stay a long time (in the independent leagues),” Gedman said. “They have a different love of the game. They have this incredible desire. If guys don’t stick around, they don’t get that chance (at the big leagues). If you don’t have a uniform on, you don’t get that chance. You have to be on the field somewhere.”
In 2011, Colabello put up his best numbers, batting .348 with 20 home runs. He was 27.
“He had an incredible desire to get better at this game,” Gedman said. “He had that stick-to-it-ness … when you start getting 25, 26, 27 years old and people are saying you have to start thinking about something else, he kept going.”
The Twins saw a pure hitter. They invited him to spring training in 2012.
“He was probably 0-for-his-first-two-weeks in spring training,” Smith said. “He was really trying hard, trying to impress and probably being someone he wasn’t.
“We finally got to a point when I sat down with the minor league farm director, saying ‘can we just tell Chris he’s on the team?’
“We told him to relax, ‘you’re going to be on our Double-A team.’ After that I don’t think he stopped hitting.”
Colabello hit .284 with 19 homers for New Britain. Promoted to Triple-A last year, he hit .352 with 24 home runs. He got called to the big leagues and struggled with a .194 average over 55 games.
In the offseason, Colabello had an offer to play in Korea for close to a $1 million. He turned it down and joined the Twins for spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.
Colabello made the major league team.
“He’s a special person and I couldn’t be happier for him,” Gedman said. “Life and the game of baseball can beat you up in so many ways.
“He didn’t get the opportunities others did. But he had a not-say-no answer to all the adversity that he might have felt. The game meant more to him. He plays because he loves the game.”
NOTES: Host families are being sought by the Sea Dogs for some players. For information, call Justin Phillips at the Sea Dogs (874-9300) or email [email protected] … Sea Dogs starter Keith Couch is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and is one of our “Prospects on the Rise.” See the list this page.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: