LONG ROAD TO THE MAJORS
Colabello originally signed with the Detroit Tigers in 2006, but he was released after just 22 days. He spent seven seasons with Worcester of the Can-Am Association, but then his fortunes began to change.
Chris was not drafted out of Assumption College in Massachusetts. But he chose to extend his baseball career by playing for Worcester in the Can Am League . . . and ended up staying eight years. And Chris hit over .300 all eight of those independent league seasons.
The Twins signed Chris after a friend emailed every team asking for a shot. A skeptical scout gave him a winter tryout inside a gymnasium.
"I guess how you play is more important than how you get here," Twins farm director Jim Rantz said. "When he's on the field, nobody cares where we found him. You look at his numbers, they're impressive. I know it's independent ball, but sometimes you get surprised by what you find there."
What they found was a 28-year-old ballplayer with 2,522 plate appearances who desperately wanted another shot at a minor league job.
"He profiled really well for what we were looking for," Rantz said. "Anyone with the experience he has deserves an opportunity."
He won a Double-A job in spring training, and happily accepted the assignment, Rantz said. "Chris is having fun. He plays hard, and he isn't worried about the future."
- Colabello was a baseball lifer, but one who had never gotten a chance to see what life in affiliated ball was like. He’d topped .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.
Chris didn’t want his magical 2012 season to end. 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 League season. He hit .332/.399/.644 for Guasave to rank among the league’s top five in batting, home runs (17), extra-base hits (30), and total bases (132). He finished as the league leader in slugging percentage (.644).
Colabello spent part of his youth in Italy because his Dad played for eight years in an Italian baseball league, and even represented Italy in the 1984 Olympics and pitched against Team USA at Dodger Stadium. And in March 2013, Chris was on Team Italy.
After being invited to join the Twins for 2013 spring training Chris said, "I promised myself three things: No. 1 was that if I was having fun, I'd still keep playing; No. 2 was that it was feasible financially and physically; and No. 3 that I was getting better," said Colabello, who gave baseball lessons and served as a substitute teacher to make ends meet. "I think from the beginning I always thought I belonged, and if I didn't believe that, I think I would've stopped playing. I always kind of thought that if someone gives me a chance I can get this done."
Hollywood script writers could be paying close attention to Twins first baseman Chris Colabello. As the 2013 World Baseball Classic got under way, Colabello and Twins teammate Drew Butera were playing for Team Italy. Colabello has come quite a long way since 2006, the last time he played in a big-league spring training camp before being cut by the Detroit Tigers.
Until playing in 2012 for Double-A New Britain the first baseman had toiled for seven years in something called the Canadian-American Association. Colabello certainly didn't expect to have a clubhouse locker next to four-time All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau, the native Canadian who like Colabello has departed camp for the WBC. "I thought the first day there was a mistake," Colabello said. "But everybody in that clubhouse is awesome. You can't help but smile every day when you walk in and you're in that position."of the border, it would have been a hostile clanging. The Massachusetts native went four-for-five with a three-run homer when Italy stunned Canada 14-5.
Playing independent league baseball after graduating from Milford High School (Mass.) and Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., Colabello kept putting up numbers, season after season, with little to no interest from Major League organizations.
Listed at 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, Colabello has a career .317 average with 86 home runs playing seven seasons for Worcester of the Can-Am League. That's even more seasons than Boston Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava waited.
"I have a lot of respect for someone who has played independent ball and gets a chance to come back and play in the big leagues, especially after seven years," said Nava, who played one season in 2007 for the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League before being discovered by the Red Sox.
"I don't know how he did it," said Nava. "Seven years, that's a long time. I don't think I could have done it for that long. It's a grind, playing independent ball. There's less money. The travel is pretty bad. The food is pretty bad. There are a lot of things that aren't good. But the one thing you do get out of it is you have fun. You don't have to be there if you don't want to be there."
Rich Gedman, now the hitting coach for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs with the Boston Red Sox, managed Colabello for six years.
"We needed a first baseman," Gedman said of the 2005 season. "He came in after the first six or seven games of the year. Then we made a change. He was learning how to be a pro. He worked hard. He hit .300 every year. Perseverance is really what it's all about. Wanting to get better. Learning how to get better. Not being bitter about not getting a chance. And for as good a baseball player as he is, he's just a great kid. That's what makes it an even better story."
All four of Colabello's grandparents and his mother were born in Italy, and his father Lou Colabello played for Italy in the 1984 Olympics. So Colabello considered playing for Team Italy an added thrill. When he returns to the Twins after the WBC, he will continue focusing on his goal of playing in the majors.
"Obviously, my ideal goal is to get to the big leagues and spend some time there," Colabello said. " I don't think they would have me here if they didn't see some potential in me. I'm just thrilled to be here, and I'm going to keep having fun with it."
He's a good teammate. He's a tremendous influence on our New Britain players. Beyond that, he's extremely appreciative of the opportunity he has. Guys fall through the cracks all the time. He's got a chance, and he has stuck with it. Colabello said he wasn't sure why scouts almost entirely ignored him.
"The biggest thing is, I don't think I have one big glaring tool," Colabello said. "If you watch me take BP on a normal day, there's probably going to be guys who hit it farther. If you watch me run a sprint down the line, there's probably going to be guys who run faster. If you watch me field ground balls, there's probably going to be guys who look a little bit better.
But he never quit, despite playing in a league that paid $700 to $3,000 a month.
"As the years went on, a little bit, you start to have little shadows of doubt, especially when you start to get 26, 27, 28. In the minor leagues at that point, you're considered old. I know in the big leagues, guys are hitting their primes at 28, 29, 30. If you're still in the minor leagues at that point, there's probably a reason for that.
"Like I said, I just wanted to get better. And I got to play. It's the game I loved my whole life."
In 2013, Chris assumed a leadership role in the clubhouse and on the field with Rochester (IL-Twins).
"I think any time in baseball when you have been around the game, you become the de facto leader. Hopefully when they see my work ethic and staying positive, it's something that funnels through the clubhouse.
"It's just about playing the game the right way every night. That's what real leaders do, what players in the big leagues and other pro sports do. They go out and compete every day."
A seven-year veteran of a faraway independent league who is blossoming after getting some advice from Tony Oliva, independent league Canadian/American Association veteran Chris Colabello rose to the Majors with the Twins in May 2013. Then, after being called up in July, he homered twice in three days, had a third home run stolen from him, then added a double.
Colabello, whom Minnesota signed in 2012 as a Minor League free agent off the Worcester Tornadoes of the CanAm League, had a phone conversation with Twins special assistant Tony Oliva. Colabello, of course, was all ears with the 1964 American League Rookie of the Year, who won three league batting titles and made eight All-Star teams in 15 years with Minnesota.
"He just told me to trust myself," Colabello said. "And to scoot closer to the plate. Then I watched video and didn't realize how far I was away from the dish [while in the batter's box]."
Colabello has shown power and hit for average. His first callup came in May, after seven years at the lowest level of the Minors. He got that unforgettable initial call to the big leagues in the middle of the night on the team bus from Lehigh Valley, Pa., back to Rochester. He had five hours to get home and catch a 6:30 a.m. flight to meet the Twins in Atlanta for a game that night.
Then the team bus he was on got hit by a car, about an hour out of Rochester. "At this point," he said with a laugh. "I don't expect anything to be easy. Builds character."
Despite the difficulties, he got the airport on time to join the Twins. He gave them a 2-0 lead in the second with a rocket-like homer to straightaway center field. He would have had his third career home run an inning later, with two Twins on base, had Seattle's Endy Chavez not leaped above the right-field wall for a game-turning catch.
"Part of the game, I guess," Colabello said of Chavez's heist. (Bell - mlb.com - 7/29/13)
Chris said, "I'm in a position where I'm still afforded the luxury of being a little kid," Colabello said. "My family and my fiancee are really supportive of whatever decision I make, and I think they'll continue to support me because they know my decisions are [always] thought out. When people start talking about money to me, well, I never really thought about this game as a means to make money. It was never that for me. It was an opportunity to do what I love to do." Imagine that. A player who looks at baseball the way you would if you had a chance to play.
"This game has never not been fun for me," said Colabello, a right-handed hitter and catcher who in a pinch can play the outfield and third base. "Every time the lights come on, you step between the lines, it's everything I could ever imagine it to be—whether it's in the big leagues, Triple-A, Double-A, even in the [independent] Can-Am League. The lights come on, umpires meet at home plate with the coaches and you run on the field. You get goose bumps and butterflies and things like that, because you are in a position where you get to compete. I love to play." (Rogers - mlb.com - 3/21/14)
It was made-for-television magic for Chris Colabello and his mother, Silvana, on April 23 with the Twins playing the Rays at Tropicana Field. Colabello was at the plate in the fourth inning with right-handerJake Odorizzi pitching, when FOX Sports North's Marney Gellner was interviewing Silvana as part of the broadcast with Colabello's parents, Lou and Silvana, in attendance at the game in a rare opportunity to watch their son play in person.
And on a 1-0 pitch, Colabello crushed a two-run homer to center field to tie the game at 2-2 while Silvana was being interviewed. She was in complete disbelief that her son homered while she was being shown on television, telling Gellner, "You knew it!" after the homer as if it was a planned event and both Colabello and Gellner were in on it.
But it simply couldn't have been scripted any better, as Colabello pointed to his mother in the stands after the home run, especially considering it was a special day for Silvana—her birthday. Colabello didn't realize until after the game what had transpired during the broadcast, but was happy to give his mother the homer as a birthday present.
"It's weird because April 23 has always been a special day for me for a long time, hitting-wise," Colabello said. "It seems like every time I play on her birthday, something crazy happens. All the way back to high school and college."
Indeed, Colabello also had a big day at the plate on his mom's birthday while he played at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. according to Silvana.
"He did it in college when it was my birthday," she said on the broadcast after the homer. "He hit two home runs that day."
Colabello drove in a total of four runs against the Rays on April 23, including the game-winning two-run single, which gave him 26 RBIs in the month of April to pass Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett's club record for RBIs in the first month of the season. So it was a extra special day for Colabello, who is one of baseball's best stories early in 2014 season.
"It's quite an honor," Colabello said of breaking Puckett's record. "You start getting mixed in with names like that and you realize how special this game is and how special this opportunity to be here is. It's certainly something I'll remember for a long time."
Colabello said he'll also always remember giving his mom that special birthday gift that day with his two-run homer and four-RBI performance. His parents both traveled from his hometown of Milford, Mass., down to Tampa Bay to see him play, as it was spring break for Lou, who works as a high school physical education teacher.
Both of his parents have supported him throughout his baseball career, including his seven years playing for Worchester in the independent Canadian-American League from 2005-2011 until finally joining the Twins organization in 2012. So Colabello believes he's living the dream now that he's finally a big league regular, and won't forget his special birthday gift he gave his mother this year. (Rhett Bollinger, MLB.com 5/9/2014)
When Colabello was three, he told his father, Lou, and mother, Silvana, that he didn't want to be a pitcher like Dad because, "If I end up in the American League, then I won't be able to hit."
When Colabello was 14 years old, getting ready for a tournament in Italy, and he almost choked to death on his own blood after jumping off the back of a runaway car and face-planting in grapevines.
Colabelo plans to marry fiancée Alison Connor in a destination wedding in December 2016.
Colabello’s trilingual mastery dates to his youth. He lived in Italy as a child, before moving back to America in 1991. Once in high school, rather than score an easy “A” by taking Italian as his required language, he took Spanish instead, and his Italian skills gave him a big leg up.
“I said, ‘Hey, might as well learn a third one.’ I got pretty good at it. It was very similar,” he said.
Once he reached the professional ranks, many of his teammates were Latin players. In an effort to connect, he brought out his rusty high school Spanish, and flopped. To improve, he asked that they try only speaking to him in Spanish.
“I played with a lot of Latin guys, some for three or four years, Dominicans and Venezuelans, and they spoke so fast,” Colabello said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, time to slow down.’”
Over the years, he learned, picking up new pieces from each new teammate he encountered and eventually progressed to the point where he sounded like a native. “Because I have a romance language background, and my accent’s good in Italian, it sounds really clean,” he said. Along the way, his slang and accent took on a Dominican tone.
“Because I was around predominantly Dominican guys, I learned a very Dominican version of Spanish,” Colabello said. “I could slow down, but I literally feel more comfortable speaking it that way. That’s what I’ve been around. I went to Mexico and played Winter Ball, and there they speak a lot slower. A lot of the Mexican guys would say to me, ‘you’re talking too fast for me, you need to slow down,’” Colabello said.
Most new teammates, like Osuna, immediately try to guess where he’s from, assuming it to be somewhere in the Caribbean.
“Because of my skin tone, people would always ask me, are you Cuban, Puerto Rican—I’d be like no, I’m Italian. And they’d say oh—well that’s weird,” Colabello said.
With Spanish conquered, Colabello has moved on to a new challenge. His next tutor? Teammate Munenori Kawasaki.
“I always wanted to be a teammate who guys felt comfortable talking to, so it helps to know another language,” Colabello said. “That’s why I’m working on my Japanese now.” (Daniel Barbarisi /Oct. 2015)
March 31, 2016: Chris passed on the cheddar.The Blue Jays first baseman was offered $15,000 by superstar slugger and teammate Jose Bautista to eat an eight-pound plate of lobster mac and cheese at dinner.
Colabello, who clearly cares about his arteries, wound up walking away from the cash, in part because the Blue Jays has a spring training game the next day. But being the social media savant that he is, Bautista chronicled Colabello’s dilemma on Instagram.
“When you’re struggling to make a decision...” he captioned with a photo of Colabello staring at the monstrous plate of food with both hands on his head.Bautista then outlined Colabello’s though process.
“8:34 he is still struggling with it. 8:45 im losing hope over here. 8:53 not looking good...,” he wrote.
After fellow Blue Jay Kevin Pillar complained that Colabello was taking too long to decide, the first baseman officially “waved the white flag,” as Bautista put it.
“Not even and attempt...” Bautista concluded. “Disappointing.”
While $15,000 may sound like a whopping amount of money, Bautista is currently in year four of a five-year, $65,000,000 deal. Colabello, on the other hand, missed the opportunity to add $15,000 to the $521,300 he’s due that year.
April 18, 2016: In Fenway Park's tiny visitors' clubhouse before a Blue Jays' win over the Red Sox, an attendant delivered a package to Chris Colabello. He instantly knew who it was from. It was a gift from Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright to make amends for hitting Colabello in the helmet with an 87-mph fastball on the day before.
"He's a great guy," Colabello said. "I told him yesterday I know there wasn't any intent on his part. Him and I have played against each other for a long time. We've had a relationship to the point where we go out of our way to say hello to each other any time we're playing against each other.
"So certainly a kind gesture on his part, completely unnecessary. I sent [former teammate] David Price a text message and told him to say thank you for me. [Wright] didn't have to do that, but that's the kind of kid he is.
"I saw the way he was standing around home plate. I knew nobody felt worse than him. I felt bad that I was down on the ground as long as I was because I wanted to reassure him that I was OK. As I was going down to first, he said something to me and I was like, 'Dude, I know. Don't worry.' And then he made it a point when the inning ended and I was coming around the bases to come over and I patted him on the back and said, 'Listen, trust me, I know. Just let it go.' There was not an after-effect for me or anything, so he can put his head down and rest easy." (Maureen Mullen / MLB.com)
April 22, 2016: Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello was suspended 80 games as MLB announced he has tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.The PED in question was dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, an anabolic steroid designed to increase speed and strength.
Colabello, 32, released a statement through the MLBPA:
"On March 13, I got one of the scariest and most definitely the least expected phone calls of my entire life. I was informed by the Players’ Association that a banned substance was found in my urine. I have spent every waking moment since that day trying to find an answer as to why or how? The only thing I know is that I would never compromise the integrity of the game of baseball. I love this game too much! I care too deeply about it. I am saddened more for the impact this will have on my teammates, the organization and the fans of the Toronto Blue Jays. I hope that before anyone passes judgement on me they can take a look at the man that I am, and everything that I have done to get to where I am in my career.”The suspension was delayed as Colabello went through the appeal process. His rise into a steady major-league contributor was one of the feel-good stories of 2015. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
November 2016: Colabello accepted an offer to play for team Italy in the March, 2017 World Baseball Classic.
2011: The Twins signed Chris as a free agent, out of the independent Can-Am League.
December 8, 2014: The Blue Jays claimed Colabello off waivers from the Twins.
April 22-July 23, 2016: Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello was suspended for 80 games without pay for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Colabello tested positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, which is an anabolic steroid also known as oral turinabol. The drug was developed in East Germany in 1962, and it gained notoriety during the 1990s, when it was linked to that county's international athletes.
Colabello, 32, informed his teammates of the news in a closed-door meeting that took place approximately 30 minutes before the suspension was announced. He did not speak to the media before leaving Rogers Centre, but he did release a statement.
"On March 13, I got one of the scariest and most definitely the least expected phone calls of my entire life," Colabello wrote. "I was informed by the [Major League Baseball] Players Association that a banned substance was found in my urine. I have spent every waking moment since that day trying to find an answer as to why or how.
"This is obviously an unfortunate situation that we are in with Chris," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said in a statement. "We believe in him as a person and player. We also fully endorse the Major League Baseball drug testing policy.
"Chris has overcome a great deal in his career and has been a key contributor to this team. While we are certainly disappointed with today's news, we're confident he'll return ready to compete and will have taken the steps needed to ensure that this does not happen again." (G Chisholm - MLB.com - April 22, 2016)
July 23, 2016: The Blue Jays announced that they've reinstated Chris Colabello from the restricted list and removed him off the team's 25-man roster. The move allows the Blue Jays to keep Colabello on the 40-man roster, and he is expected to remain with Triple-A Buffalo. Because of the suspension, Colabello is not eligible to be on the Blue Jays' postseason roster.
Colabello tested positive in April for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, which is an anabolic steroid also known as oral turinabol. The first baseman receieved an 80-game suspension that ended on July 23, 2016.
"He's got to play in [live] competition," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. (A Ravjiani - MLB.com - July 24, 2016)
December 6, 2016: Colabello declined his outright assignment from the Blue Jays to the Minor Leagues electing to become a free agent.
- December 20, 2016: Chris signed a minor league deal with the Indians.