Through nine games, Chris Colabello is leading the American League with 11 runs batted in, thanks in large part to a career-high six-RBI game in a 10-9 Twins win against the White Sox earlier this month.
MINNEAPOLIS — Twins first baseman Chris Colabello is fluent in three different languages.
Korean is not one of them.
"Not at all," said Colabello, who speaks English, Spanish and Italian. "One of these days, maybe."
There was a chance Colabello would have had to pick up Korean as his third foreign language in order to continue his baseball career. After making his major-league debut with the Twins last season, Colabello drew the attention of several professional teams in South Korea. Those clubs contacted Minnesota’s front office to discuss possibly acquiring the 30-year-old Colabello.
But Colabello, a Massachusetts native, didn’t grow up dreaming about one day playing baseball in Korea. He had aspirations of playing in the major leagues, a dream he finally reached last year after spending much of his career under the radar in independent ball.
Colabello ultimately decided to turn down the lucrative offer from the Korean teams and stay in Minnesota. Both he and the Twins are glad he did.
"Any time anybody starts talking about large sums of money, you obviously kind of pause for a second and start thinking about, ‘What if?’ You weigh a lot of positives and negatives," Colabello said. "I don’t think anybody’s dream is to just get to the big leagues. Not to say it wasn’t satisfying to get here, but I was still hungry, for sure. After having been here, I definitely wanted to pursue it to the fullest extent and see what I was capable of, for sure."
Through nine games, Colabello has been capable of leading the American League with 11 runs batted in. That was thanks in large part to a career-high six-RBI game in a 10-9 Twins win against the White Sox earlier this month. Colabello also drove in four runs in a 10-7 victory over Cleveland a few days later.
Perhaps just as importantly for Colabello, though, is that he’s playing every day. He was Minnesota’s designated hitter on Thursday against Oakland, meaning he’s played in all nine of the Twins’ games this year, including eight starts.
"When he’s played regularly, he’s produced — at Double-A two years ago, last year at Triple-A," said Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony. "He showed signs of it last year up here, but he didn’t play on a daily basis. I think it’s hard for any everyday player when you’ve been an everyday player your whole life to all of a sudden play sporadically and be able to stay in a rhythm and produce like you’re used to producing. He’s played every day this season, and he feels comfortable and he’s confident."
Colabello’s 2013 season with Triple-A Rochester was a breakout year in just his second season in the Twins’ organization. He was named the International League’s Most Valuable Player after hitting .352 with 24 home runs and 76 RBI in 89 games. Those numbers earned him a trip to the big leagues for the first time in his career. He batted just .194 in 55 games with the Twins but did slug seven homers.
Many people doubted Colabello’s ability when he went undrafted out of Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. He wound up staying close to home by spending seven years with the Worcester Tornadoes of the Canadian-American Association, but Colabello never doubted himself. That led to his chance in the big leagues — and plenty of media and fan attention that’s accompanied his early-season success in 2014. Of all the players in the Twins’ clubhouse for Monday’s home opener, Colabello’s locker drew the biggest crowd of reporters.
"I try not to pay attention to it," Colabello said of the added attention. "If people want to talk to me, I’m delighted, obviously. I try to do the best I can at handling it and not shortchange anyone. It’s part of the process. It’s part of what you think about when you’re growing up. You understand it. You just try to handle it the best you can."
Colabello could have just as easily been honing his Korean by interacting with fans and media overseas. He’s had conversations with former Twins pitcher Andrew Albers, who did what Colabello didn’t do and followed the money to South Korea. Before either player was approached about the opportunity, they actually had discussions about their housing situation in Fort Myers as spring training approached.
Before Albers left for Korea, Colabello had already received offers from the Korean clubs. Albers knew he was going to be a long shot to make the Twins’ roster, so he went where he knew he’d have a chance to pitch.
"Before you knew it, he was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got this going on. What do you think?’ We talked about the positives and negatives," Colabello said. "I was really honored to be pursued like that by teams. Ultimately, my heart was here."