With the 2014 MLB All-Star Game just days away, I want to take a moment to recognize a man who completed an unbelievable journey from baseball obscurity, to the center of the game’s universe just one year ago. His name is Steve Delabar.
The campaign was titled #raisethebar, and it conjured up 9.6 million votes to send the baseball journeyman and current Toronto Blue Jays reliever to the 2013 All-Star Game at New York City’s Citi Field.
9.6 million votes are pretty impressive for any player, but once you hear Delabar’s story, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything more incredible in baseball.
The Humble Beginning
Delabar was drafted in the 29th round of the 2003 MLB amateur draft by the San Diego Padres. Before 2011, he had never reached past A-affiliate baseball. After a devastating fracture to his elbow in 2009 while pitching for the Brockton Rox of the independent Can-Am League, Delabar had all but given up on his playing career in baseball.
He moved back to his home in Elizabethtown, Kentucky to be with his beautiful young wife Jamie and hopefully raise a family. He would have likely spent the next few years as a substitute teacher and high school pitching coach, hoping to pass on his knowledge to a new eager generation of ball players while playing softball on the weekends.
Many players have followed this same path: learning to grow from a competitive player, fine tuning their mechanics and bodies, to a knowledgeable coach, willing to soak up any new information to help give their players the competitive edge. It was this thirst for knowledge that led Delabar to try out a new throwing program that he hoped he could teach to his players. The program was called EM’s Velocity Plus Program, and the results were nothing short of remarkable.
Delabar went from 91-92 mph to 95-96 mph consistently, topping out at 97 mph. He managed this with nine screws and a metal plate in his elbow from the 2009 fracture. He was then signed to a minor league contract by the Seattle Mariners shortly after throwing for a regional scout in March of 2011.
A Second Chance Not Wasted
Fast forward six months to September 11th, 2011, and the 28-year-old made his major league debut for the Seattle Mariners against the Kansas City Royals, eight and a half years after first being drafted out of college. He struck out the last two batters he faced in the one inning he pitched, including current Blue Jays teammate Melky Cabrera.
Some guys would be content with that incredible story alone, but Delabar was just getting warmed up.
He was traded to the Blue Jays on July 30th, 2012. In the first half of the 2013 regular season, it almost seemed as if Delabar was making it his personal mission to make up for lost time he spent drifting through baseball purgatory for those long, eight years. He went 5-1 with a 1.58 ERA, and was third among all American league relievers with 57 strikeouts by the all-star break.
Then the call came.
On July 11th, 2013, after some heavy campaigning via #raisethebar on Twitter with the help of his Blue Jays teammates, Steve Delabar was selected to the American League All-Star Team. The kid made good on his chance as well, striking out Giants Catcher Buster Posey in five pitches in 1/3 of an innings work at the mid-summer classic.
Since that fateful appearance Delabar has struggled a little. In the 2014 season, he has twice been designated to AAA-Buffalo after sporting a 4.68 ERA and 16 walks through 25 innings with the Blue Jays.
Even so, don’t expect the 30-year-old to be finished just yet as he continues to throw +94 mph with no injuries to report this season.
So here’s to you Steve, congratulations on seizing the moment and making a comeback to baseball no one here in Toronto or Elizabethtown, Kentucky will soon forget.