All-Star Game would be Delabar's Hollywood ending
Just three years ago, reliever was a substitute teacher, baseball coach
CLEVELAND -- Steve Delabar never could have envisioned it back then, but his life was about to take a dramatic turn during the fateful spring of 2011.
Delabar was 28 at the time, and like a lot of people his age, he was attempting to figure out what the next phase of his life would bring. He was working as a substitute teacher while finishing his degree at a local university and spent his spare time coaching baseball.
Baseball was an area of expertise for the 29th-round Padres Draft pick in 2003, but his playing career seemingly came to an end in 2009 when Delabar fractured his right elbow while throwing a pitch for the Brockton Rox of the independent Can-Am League.
He didn't have any lofty aspirations of a professional comeback, and even if he had, it seemed unlikely that a pitcher who never appeared in a game above Class A would be given a second chance. But Delabar resumed throwing and started going through a new weighted-ball workout routine, so that he could learn it first-hand and then pass the knowledge along to his students.
As the workouts progressed, Delabar started looking more and more impressive on the mound. He didn't just regain his previous velocity, but actually began throwing harder than ever, and all of the sudden, his childhood dream started to become a possibility once again.
"He was giving lessons at my place, working and going to school, trying to get his degree, playing some slow-pitch softball," recalled Joe Newton, who is a friend and former instructor of Delabar's at the Players' Dugout in Elizabethtown, Ky.
"He started doing the [weighted-ball] program, and then it went crazy. The numbers went crazy. He asked me to call Brian Williams, a scout from the Mariners. He came in a couple of weeks later, and Stevie did an unbelievable job."
The encounter that day was a personal favor of sorts to Newton. He had a previous working relationship with Williams after the Mariners had scouted players from the Elizabethtown area in the past. There was trust between the two men, and when the request was made, it was only going to be a matter of time before the two sides connected.
But this was shaping up to be a one-shot kind of deal. High school athletes can occasionally get away with a poor outing in front of scouts, because more often than not, there will be a second chance down the road. That wasn't the case for Delabar, who was entering the supposed prime years of his life, but hadn't even thrown a pitch in Minor League Baseball for more than two seasons.
Delabar had one opportunity to impress, and he didn't want to disappoint. There was nothing to lose, but with so much to gain, he had plenty of nerves.
"The day before, [Williams] called me and said he was coming through the area to go watch a high school kid south of where I live, and he asked if I could throw for him," Delabar said. "I was like, 'Ah, my velocity's up, but I don't know if I'm ready.'
"He called me and asked if I could go. I said, 'no,' but then I called him back and said, 'yes.' I had to call our local high school catcher, get him out of school, get him some lunch and then have him meet up with us for the workout."
What happened next was entirely unexpected. Delabar typically threw 89-91-mph while pitching in the Padres' Minor League system from 2004-08. The velocity was above that during his training in Kentucky, but with Williams in attendance, Delabar reached back and found another gear.
With a video camera set up behind the plate and another one to his side, Delabar gave a preview of what was to come. His real-life Hollywood script was beginning.
"I really didn't know Stevie would throw that hard," said Newton, still with a sense of bewilderment a couple of years after the fact. "I swear he hit 99-mph that day. He threw the heck out of the ball. Brian didn't really have a choice but to call his organization."
Williams obviously came away impressed, but the long road back to professional baseball was far from over. The Mariners became intrigued, but they wanted to get a firsthand look at the notes from his surgical procedure, which involved a steel plate being inserted into his right arm with nine screws.
A month went by before the call finally came. Delabar was invited to an in-person workout for the club. He received his flight information and hopped on the plane, not knowing exactly what to expect.
The waiting time would have driven almost anyone crazy, but Delabar said he remained relaxed throughout the process. At this point, he was just a normal guy going through a normal life, and if there was an eventual payoff at the end, it would have made things even better, but he wasn't going to stress over it.
"I was still going to school, still substitute teaching, doing all of that, and I was coaching, too, so that kind of passed the time, kept me busy," Delabar said. "We were on spring break with the high school team, so that kind of occupied my mind, but the week after spring break, I said 'Hey this might be it for me, but there's a chance I might come back.' The high school coach was like, 'You're not coming back.'"
Those words foreshadowed what would turn into a remarkable journey. Delabar threw a pair of bullpen sessions before officially signing with the Mariners. He went through all three levels in the Minor Leagues before eventually making his Major League debut as a September callup in 2011.
Now, just two years later, Delabar finds himself as one of the most reliable relievers in the game. He has a 5-1 record with a sparking 1.74 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings of work this season.
The string of success has resulted in a spot on the Final Vote, which is a fan ballot to determine the final spot on the American League All-Star team. Delabar's tale is already legendary, and one that will be talked about for years in his hometown, but to become an All-Star? That could be the cherry on top.
"It's the greatest story in Major League history, ever," Newton said. "There's not one like it. How could anybody break their arm, anybody come back, make it to the Major Leagues and now be on the All-Star ballot? It's never happened, ever. It's the most amazing story in 143 years."
Now in its 12th year, the 2013 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by freecreditscore.com gives baseball fans around the world the opportunity to select the final player on each All-Star team. Balloting began immediately following Saturday's Major League All-Star Selection Show presented by Taco Bell, and ends today at 4 p.m. ET. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly thereafter.
There will be an extra treat for fans who participate in the Final Vote online. If you are not a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you are eligible to receive a 14-day free trial of MLB.TV from July 12-26. If you are a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you will receive a 15-percent discount to the MLB.com Shop. MLB.com will send an email on July 12 to all Final Vote voters with instructions on how to redeem the applicable offer.
Mobile voting in the U.S. and Canada is open to everyone. In the U.S., to receive the 2013 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by freecreditscore.com mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 89269. To vote for Delabar, simply text message A2 to 89269. In Canada, fans should text A2 to 101010. Standard message and data rates may apply.
When the latest voting results were announced Thursday morning, Delabar remained atop the list of five candidates vying for a spot on the AL All-Star team.
"The Jays fans, they're blowing it up," Delabar said. "Their fan base, obviously it's one of the biggest. One team for a whole country is amazing, so all I can say is 'wow.' They're great. They're so supportive. They love their team, and I can just say, 'thank you.'"