“Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello was suspended 80 games today after testing positive for a banned substance.”
I don’t even know where to start. This just hurts. Even more than his lack of hitting at the beginning of the year, even more than the prospect of losing him back to the minors. Not our beloved Cola.
On May 5th of last year, a lanky, scruffy Italian dude showed up out of nowhere and blew me away. Not in the outfield, of course (it’s not his natural position, people!), but at the plate. His half-sleepy, half-goofy interviews got to me too. Underlying it all was a sense of gratitude for where he was, and how much he loved baseball and was so happy to be able to play it.
This is a player who turned down a million-dollar contract to play in Korea, because all he ever wanted to do was play in the MLB. A kid who decided not to follow his father’s footsteps and become a pitcher, because ‘If I’m in the AL, I won’t get to hit’. A young man who, according to his dad, took his bat and glove into his bedroom and cried the night he didn’t get drafted. That guy languished in independent baseball for seven years, because he knew where he wanted to be and wasn’t going to stop until he got there.
And then by some miracle, he was picked up by the Minnesota Twins, and two years and a waiver claim later, landed on our doorstep.
Colabello statement, released through players’ union: pic.twitter.com/XP7nNyya8k
— John Lott (@LottOnBaseball) April 22, 2016
When he says he loves the game of baseball, I believe him. He’s still making far less than he would have if he’d gone to Korea. But he was so happy to be here. He spent hours post-game taking fly balls from Tim Lieper when he was in the outfield, trying to get better in an unfamiliar role. He would go to the batting cages every chance he got – Troy Tulowitzki mentioned it was something they’d bonded over, being ‘students of the game’ and talking baseball every chance they got.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t do it, of course. In fact, being a guy who loves the game so much, and who didn’t get to play until he was 29, is probably even more of a motivation to keep himself in competitive form for as long as possible. It’s a stressful world, professional sports. If you’re not the top dog, you’re easily replaceable (one only need look so far as Danny Valencia, who was DFA last year in favour of keeping Colabello). If this is everything he dedicated his life to, and he was afraid he’d be gone in a short time, it makes sense for him to do anything he could to stay. As my dad put it, desperate times make people do desperate things.
He’s the only one who knows for certain what happened. There are a lot of questions here, and most of them will probably never be answered. For example, if he found out on March 13th, when did the positive test happen? During the post season? Before Spring Training? Does that mean he’d taken the substance all through last season as well, or was it a one-time thing? This news also puts into perspective how unfocused he seemed at the plate at the start of the season. That’s a lot to have weighing on your mind over the course of a month, especially through an appeal.
Another thing that needs to be addressed – why is it that MLB believes banned substances are worth a longer suspension than a criminal offense, such as domestic violence? Colabello got 80 days. Aroldis Chapman got 30, after he was accused of beating his girlfriend. In fact (and it saddens me to admit this) when the word ‘suspension’ was first floated, without context, my initial thought was ‘Oh god please tell me he didn’t hurt someone’. I was relieved to find that wasn’t the case, but still very disappointed.
He was supposed to be one of the good ones. Proof that if you tried long enough, and worked hard enough you could really make it. I’d wanted to buy a shirt with his name and number on it for a really long time, and the reasoning behind why is kind of odd. Not for my own sake (certainly not for that of my wallet), but for his. I wanted that shirt because of what he represented, to show that I was proud of the guy who had clawed his way up to the top. I wanted it to be known that this humble dude had inspired someone, that anytime someone asked me ‘who’s that?’, I had a good story to tell them.
From the first article I read about his history, I’ve been saying that he could easily make me cry. That’s even more true now, but for a completely different reason. It used to be pride that after everything he’d been through, he finally had a happy ending. Now, it’s because he took the pride and faith I had in him, and completely broke my heart. So how to feel about this situation?
I think it speaks to his character that he called a meeting to explain to his teammates what had happened, and didn’t hide from them. It can’t have been easy, especially considering the timing – the day after a Ken Rosenthal article featuring comments made by teammates Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson about people who use PEDs. It definitely speaks to how loved Colabello is that people were willing to stand up for him, and offer their support. While it’s typical for the teams of suspended athletes to stick behind their guy when these kinds of things happen, I was relieved to hear Ross Atkins say today that they absolutely still want him to be a part of the organization. Even if they eventually decide they want nothing to do with Colabello the player, I hope they take care of Colabello the person.
I know that we the public don’t know professional athletes, and therefore we have no way of knowing who they are inside. But if the people – the players and even the media members – who do know him are saying he’d never do this? I want to believe they’re right. I want to believe that at best this was all a mistake, and at worst he’s a good person who just made a bad choice. But I don’t know what to believe. Other than that Kevin Pillar is one heck of a friend.
— Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) April 22, 2016
(Here’s the full interview in video form)
What I do know is this – if history has taught us anything, it’s that Chris Colabello is a fighter. An unusually polite one, at that, but he’s a tenacious, scrappy underdog. He loves the game of baseball too much to let this be his final chapter. He’s allowed to train in Dunedin while he’s suspended, and do a rehab assignment with a minor league team for the final 10 games. You can bet he’ll be making the most of his time there; working out, spending all his time in the hitting cage, trying to redeem himself.
He’s going to have to prove that it wasn’t some drug with a ten-syllable name that made him a good ballplayer, it was being Chris Colabello that made him a good ballplayer. The road will be long, and it’ll be tough, but every one he’s faced so far has been long and tough. Barring roster moves, or any rainouts that might shift the schedule, the first game he’d be eligible to come back would be a Saturday matinee on July 23rd, at home against the Seattle Mariners.
Mark your calendars. He’s only got 79 more to go.
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