Chris Colabello Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 60
There’s no real way around it—Chris Colabello had an unquestionably unique path in baseball filled with the highest highs and lowest lows. His life in baseball wasn’t always an easy path, but if you ask Colabello, that life was really his only choice.
“It’s all I ever wanted to do—there was never anything else.”
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Colabello’s father Lou played professional baseball in Italy and subsequently passed down his love for the game to his son. The younger Colabello possessed a strong work ethic and “hitterish tendencies,” but was a tall, skinny late-bloomer who never jumped off the page to recruiters from top programs.
Undeterred by the lack of big school interest, Colabello enrolled at Division 2 Assumption College, where he’d fill out some and blossom into a four-year starter and All-Conference performer at first base.
Despite playing at a small school, a strong showing the summer before his senior year in the New England Collegiate Baseball League alongside multiple future big leaguers gave him the confidence that he could hang with a higher talent level. He received a smattering of draft interest from multiple organizations heading into the 2005 draft and figured he’d hear his name called at some point to get his shot in affiliated baseball. The call never came.
“It was like the 40th round when I was kind of like ‘I’m out, I’m leaving, I can’t stay here and deal with this,’” said Colabello.
A call from his first college coach came in as the draft wound to a close, letting the frustrated Colabello know that the first-year Worcester Tornadoes of the Can-Am League would be interested in working him out. Colabello ended up making the ball club, but initially remained disgruntled regarding being passed over in the draft, and desperately in need of a wake-up call.
“One of my teammates called me aside and said ‘Hey, you complain a lot,”” said Colabello. “He goes ‘Every guy in this room has a story man—look around, that guy’s been to the big leagues (…) this guy’s been to Triple-A, this guy’s been to Double-A,’ and it was a rude awakening.”
The pep talk worked—Colabello became a lineup mainstay over the next seven years, never hitting below .300, but year after year also never getting a chance to make a team in affiliated baseball. To financially make ends meet, he’d give hitting lessons and work camps with Worcester manager and former big leaguer Rich Gedman, during which he’d receive more than just money.
“The beauty that came with it was anytime I did anything with Rich we’d just have a tendency to jump into the cage and spend an extra two hours there,” said Colabello. “I probably owe him half my big league earnings because those hours epitomized everything I learned from him on how to be a pro (…) without Ged and the countless hours he put in with me and his mentorship I most certainly don’t become Chris Colabello, major league player.”
Colabello continued to plug away, and after being named BA’s 2011 Independent League Player of the Year, finally received a chance in affiliated ball with the Twins. He made his affiliated debut in 2012, and by 2013 got the call to head to Minnesota.
His time with the Twins was uneven—going from longtime lineup mainstay to bench player learning to hit the best pitching on the planet isn’t the easiest adjustment. After being DFA’d in 2014, Colabello caught on with the Blue Jays, giving him both a fresh start and fresh mindset. He was no longer the Indy ball guy with a cool story—with Toronto he was a big league piece being picked up.
Colabello thrived during the 2015 season with a playoff-bound Blue Jays team. He slashed .321/.367/.520 over 101 games and became a key contributor. The years of grinding had seemingly finally paid off.
Just months later, early in the 2016 season, things came to a crashing halt. Colabello was handed an 80 game suspension due to testing positive for miniscule amount of an outdated PED called Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT)—and soon was joined by a small fraternity of also suspended players including Kent Emanuel and Logan Webb, as well as former UFC champion Jon Jones, in searching for answers on how the substance appeared in their urine sample.
The suspension effectively ended Colabello’s career, as he never again played in the big leagues, and struggled with depression and anxiety once he returned to various minor league assignments. Colabello and other suspended players spent years working to clear their names of wrongdoing and spearhead change in MLB’s drug testing policy in regards to DHCMT.
Reportedly, the 2022 CBA reflects those desired changes. While exact wording hasn’t been reported, earlier this year Emanuel told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, “the only thing they assured me is that there wouldn’t be another case like any of ours where a player got suspended for a couple of picograms of the M3. That’s really all that they would tell me, no matter how much I dug.”
For Colabello, any change in testing is too little, too late, but does offer at a silver lining.
“I deserve to be repaid, I deserve compensation, I deserve a lot of different things,” said Colabello. “But more importantly than anything else, I’m happy that no one else will have to go through this again.”
On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm’ former big leaguer Chris Colabello walks us through his career journey. Spending nearly a decade in Indy ball, breaking into the big leagues at 29, experiencing the Jose Bautista playoff bat flip, and fighting to clear his name and save his reputation.