There are players who spent the majority of their careers toiling away in the minor leagues, and then there’s Chris Colabello.
The 29-year-old Massachusetts native went unnoticed after playing for Assumption College, a private Catholic school in Worcester, Mass. No major league teams were interested — not even as an undrafted free agent — so Colabello slipped through the cracks and found himself playing independent baseball, a rung below the traditional minor leagues.
The one positive for Colabello was that it afforded him the opportunity to stay close to home. He signed with the Worcester Tornadoes of the Canadian-American Association in 2005 and was getting paid (albeit not much) to play baseball in a city just 30 minutes from his hometown of Milford.
In each of his seven seasons there, Colabello put up impressive offensive numbers. He hit 16 homers and batted .336 while driving in 76 runs in 2008. But his efforts seemingly went unnoticed.
Undeterred, Colabello continued to spend his time playing independent ball. Year after year, he put on the Worcester jersey, with a brief stop in Nashua during the 2007 season.
“It means he’s got a lot of perseverance is what it says,” said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. “He must love the game to do that. . . . You’re thinking maybe he might want to move on with life. But he didn’t, which is a good thing.”
Indeed, it was a good thing for both the Twins and Colabello that he remained persistent. Finally, after seven years of independent ball, Colabello got his chance. Twins area scout John Wilson heard that there was a player in his area that was worth checking out. So Wilson headed to Worcester to watch Colabello.
It was just the break Colabello needed. He was invited to Minnesota’s minor league camp in 2012 and spent the season for Double-A New Britain. He was finally away from independent baseball, but his dream of the major leagues was still a few steps away.
This past spring, Minnesota brought Colabello to the major league camp, during which he joined Team Italy for the World Baseball Classic. After camp was done, the Twins assigned him to Triple-A Rochester. While there, Colabello put up league-leading numbers: a .354 average, 76 RBI and 24 homers were all tops in the International League. He was an All-Star and competed in the Triple-A home run derby.
“You look at his numbers in Rochester, they’re unbelievable,” Ryan said.
Now it’s a matter of Colabello carrying his success from the minors to the majors. This past Friday, Colabello earned his second call-up to the majors. Prior to Tuesday’s game in Los Angeles, Colabello has now appeared in 10 big league games. He has four hits to his name and just one RBI, certainly not the numbers he was used to putting up in Rochester.
But it’s still a learning process for the 29-year-old Colabello, who now finds himself in major league ballparks — with 35,000 fans and two or three tiers of seating — thanks largely to his refusal to give up on the game.
“It’s easy to look around and stay positive. You figure out where you are and, ‘Oh, man, what do I have to worry about or fret about?'” Colabello said. “When you’ve been dreaming about something since you were a little kid and you finally get there, you’re like, ‘Now what?’ I think it’s just a matter of getting used to it and adjusting to the environment and figuring out how to do that to the best of your ability. Then it just becomes about playing baseball.”
Colabello was primarily a first baseman in the minor leagues, with some time spent at third base and a handful of games in the outfield. So far with the Twins he’s played first base once, right field once and has been the designated hitter in his other four starts.
Minnesota is set at the first base position — for now, that is. Justin Morneau’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors for weeks as a possible candidate to be dealt by the July 31 deadline. If Morneau goes, that may very well open a door for Colabello to see more time at first base and make a case for himself for the rest of the year and beyond.
Yet after being patient for seven years of independent ball, Colabello continues to take things as they come. He’s not worrying himself with what the future holds. He’s too busy enjoying the present.
“I’m just going to try to have as much fun as possible every day, play the game and help the team win some games,” he said. “Every step I take from this moment on will be a great one, in my mind. Whatever happens, I’m thankful to this organization for giving me the opportunity they did. . . . I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play. That’s why I’ve played the game my whole life; I just want to play.”