On or off field, D-backs’ Collmenter comfortable in any role
PHOENIX — When Josh Collmenter attended Phoenix Comicon with FOX Sports Arizona cameras last week, it was fair to wonder whether he’d be recognized more as a Diamondbacks pitcher or Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Star Wars character he was costumed to represent.
Collmenter says he was recognized as a baseball player more than he expected to be — his visible D-backs jersey under his Obi-Wan robe may have helped — but considering he engaged in a lightsaber battle in a busy hallway at the Phoenix Convention Center, it’s likely most just saw him as another comic book and science fiction enthusiast.
The visit to Comicon could hardly have been more fitting a jaunt for Collmenter, the D-backs’ unassuming goofball who’s as comfortable chatting up stormtroopers as he is filling a range of roles on the team’s pitching staff.
"My life is very much ‘go with the flow,’ " Collmenter said. "There’s not a whole lot that I take super serious. I can kind of fit in a variety of roles both on the field and off the field."
This season alone, Collmenter has also been the prize in an Australian blind date contest, visited the set of "The Wizard of Oz" in ruby red Nikes to try on costumes and interview Toto, and taken long-range target practice with teammate Wade Miley. In past seasons, Collmenter has been the ringleader of rookie excursions to the Arizona Renaissance Festival.
Then of course there’s Collmenter’s role as the D-backs’ clubhouse leader in patriotism. Whether it’s the Olympics or the Fourth of July, Collmenter’s locker is likely to feature a full size American flag. After meeting Arizona senator John McCain for a second time this spring, Collmenter expressed post-baseball political aspirations.
"It’s fun for me," Collmenter said of his off-the-field escapades. "I don’t really have a lot of responsibilities in terms of a family or kids or anything like that, so I have a lot of free time. It fits my personality. I can get along and mingle with just about anybody.
"It’s unique experiences that if I was doing something else — if I had a 9-to-5 job — I wouldn’t be able to do, so it’s fun to be able to take advantage of the opportunities."
The thing about Collmenter’s antics is they come across as genuine. While it’s true they’ve attracted some publicity, it’s not a result of self-promotion. He doesn’t have a Twitter account. He’s out there, but in an accessible way. And that’s a reflection of Collmenter’s quiet nature and the anonymous way he’s thrived as the D-backs’ do-it-all pitcher.
After a breakout 2011 season, Collmenter struggled as a starter early in 2012 and was shifted to long relief. He excelled in the role, routinely eating innings after short outings from starters and occasionally making an unexpected spot start. He filled the role so capably that D-backs manager Kirk Gibson consistently resisted the idea of a return to the rotation.
But this season, with Patrick Corbin sidelined by Tommy John surgery and other starters struggling, the D-backs called on Collmenter to take a spot in the rotation after just four relief appearances, the last of which was to stretch him out for starting duty.
The transition has appeared seamless, as Collmenter has gone 4-3 with a 3.82 ERA — the right-hander is 4-1 with a 3.38 ERA in his last nine starts. The D-backs are 7-4 in games Collmenter started.
"That’s Colly," Gibson said. "He just has a great ability that way. He understands the roles. He keeps his cool. He’s good in sticky situations, whether he’s in the ‘pen or as a starter.
"He’s been great for us. He’s given us a chance to win almost every time we put him out there."
Collmenter, the D-backs’ 15th-round draft pick in 2007, says getting comfortable in the rotation was easy because he’s been a starter for most of his career. He also has the benefit of perspective, having had to learn new routines as a reliever.
The time away from the rotation, Collmenter believes, actually made him better suited to start.
"I’m definitely a much better pitcher and I think more mature this time around," Collmenter said. "I understand a little bit more about establishing a game plan and then executing that. … I’m definitely a lot more, I wouldn’t say confident, but I’m a lot more sure of what I’m doing."
As goofy as Collmenter may seem off the field, he’s all business when he steps between the lines, and that’s what fans see the most. But that’s not a true read on his character, either. He never has been, to use his words, "super serious."
"He just does a good job of keeping things loose, not getting too uptight about anything and just being relaxed," reliever Brad Ziegler said. "Anybody that knows him knows that’s just who he is."
Gibson says he has no idea whether Collmenter will stick in the rotation long term or return to the bullpen. Collmenter says he definitely wants to remain a starter, though he enjoyed being a reliever. He admits that a couple years ago he may have felt that way more selfishly but now has an appreciation for what happens in the bullpen.
Collmenter made on-the-field history for the D-backs last month by facing the minimum number of batters for just the second time in team history, pitching a complete-game, three-hit shutout of the Reds on May 29 — the other in D-backs history was Randy Johnson’s perfect game in 2004. Next month, Collmenter will make a different kind of team history, a kind fitting of his personality.
He’ll become the first D-backs player immortalized with his own Star Wars bobblehead, which will be given away on July 20 to fans who have purchased the team’s Star Wars Day ticket package. The bobblehead features Collmenter in the same Obi-Wan Kenobi outfit he wore to Comicon and a floating baseball.
Similar to how Collmenter’s time in the bullpen gave him a new appreciation for the role of a reliever, he came away from his Comicon trip with a new admiration for the devotion of comic book and science fiction fans.
"I don’t know if I have anything in my life that I’m that passionate about," Collmenter said.
Well, other than maybe pitching.