Just a year ago, Chris Colabello was just hoping to hear the phone ring.
He’d finished off an outstanding season with the Can-Am League’s Worcester Tornadoes, hitting .348-20-79 to be named Baseball America’s Independent Leagues’ Player of the Year. That had drawn some attention from the Diamondbacks, but as Christmas arrived, Colabello still hadn’t received a contract offer from anyone.
Colabello was a baseball lifer, but one who had never gotten a chance to see what life in affiliated ball was like. He’d hit over .300 in every one of his eight Can-Am League seasons, but the closest he had come to affiliated ball was a spring training with the Tigers where he was released before Opening Day.
Thankfully for Colabello, the Twins did come calling early in 2012. He signed a minor league deal, earned a spot on the Double-A New Britain roster in spring training and then proceeded to go out and show baseball what it had been missing. He hit .284/.358/.478 for New Britain, earning Eastern League all-star honors while drawing raves for his defense at first base.
Now that he’s gotten a chance at affiliated ball, it’s clear Colabello didn’t want his magical 2012 season to stop. He joined Team Italy (following in his father’s Lou’s footsteps) to help them win the European Cup in October. He then headed down to Guasave for the Mexican Pacific winter league season.
As impressive as all that has been, Colabello, 29, saved the best for last. He was hitting .332/.399/.644 for Guasave to rank among the league’s top five in batting, home runs (17), RBI’s (44), slugging percentage, extra-base hits (30) and total bases (132).
“I could have never imagined this a year ago. It’s crazy,” Colabello said. “I’m pretty popular (in Guasave) I guess. I get recognized in the streets a lot which is neat. They’ve been really good to me.”
As great as Colabello’s winter has become, it didn’t start out that way. After a hot start, Colabello battled a cold and stomach bug not long after he arrived in Guasave. He was hitting .220 at its lowest point, leading to a conversation with the club’s general manager. Winter league clubs aren’t exactly known for their patience at letting rather untested minor leaguers figure things out.
“I thought ‘they are going to send me home,’ ” Colabello said. “(The GM) asked me ‘do you want to go home?’ I told him no. But I told him if you think you can find someone better, I understand, but I know I can hit. He told me he liked my attitude so lets see what happens.”
Colabello homered two nights later. He added another home run the next night, and another two nights after he started a streak of five consecutive games with a home run, capped off by a two home run game on Nov. 9. The slump was quickly forgotten, as he turned into one of Guasave’s stars.
Having put in a good two months in Mexico, Colabello had the option of heading home for good—he’s been playing baseball non-stop from February through late December. But the days of being an indy player just hoping for a shot don’t go away just because you’re having some success on a bigger stage. Colabello had spent years just hoping to get a shot to play in a winter ball league. Now that he’s getting to do it, he’s hoping to play with Guasave through the Caribbean Series. From there, he’ll get a little time off before spring training, although the Guasave club was nice enough to give him a flight home for Christmas so he could spend it with his family.
He got an early Christmas present as well. As Christmas neared this year, Colabello’s phone rang again. It was Twins general manager Terry Ryan on the other end, calling him to tell him he’d be invited to big league spring training. Just a year after the thought of getting a shot at minor league spring training seemed almost too much to ask, Colabello will be playing in spring training games with the big league club.
Colabello is ticketed to head to Triple-A Rochester to start the 2013 season. It’s safe to say that no one will be more thrilled with the assignment.
“It’s easier to appreciate a 10-hour bus ride to Richmond or early work in July. In a lot of ways, I’m thankful to have gotten the opportunity when I did, because I’m so much more appreciative than I would have been if I had been drafted as a 21-year-old and headed to rookie ball.”