Mark Melancon faced challenges early in his career, from injuries to demotions. However, he looks back at them as blessings.
The Colorado native has turned into a three-time All-Star, the 2015 National League leader in saves with 51 and, now, the top free-agent signing by the Giants during the offseason.
Melancon discussed his path to the big leagues in this week's Q&A:
MLB.com: With arm problems in college pushing you down in the Draft when you came out of Arizona, and then Tommy John surgery after that first year in the Yankees' system, do you think about how far you have come?
Melancon: In that respect, it's surprising. Not that I ever doubted myself, but it's a numbers game. A small amount of people are able to do this, step into the big leagues. I feel very blessed. You have to have some things go your way. More importantly, you have to work hard, and you have to keep your head on your shoulders. There are a lot of things that have to go right
MLB.com: You just became that much more determined?
Melancon: Yeah, yeah. Going through rehab was in a lot of ways good, you know? It resets you and makes you think that you're not in med school, and you have to do things right, go about things the correct way. To happen early in my career was maybe a good thing.
Video: ARI@SF: Melancon retires Tomas to notch the save
MLB.com: When you were coming back from Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2006 season, wasn't that when you went down to the Dominican for a while on your own?
Melancon: I spent time in the normal instructional league in Tampa, and I also piggybacked that with a Dominican instructional league. Then I asked them if I could stay two more weeks after that because things were going good. I felt good, but I really enjoyed the culture and getting to know my teammates down there, how they have grown up and how they lived their whole life down there, and the way they play the game. It was a fun experience for me. I feel like it's paid off, and I can relate to guys a little bit better, just knowing where they come from. I would go to dinner at a teammate's house and there were dirt floors. When he went to take a shower, I could hear the bucket with the cup of water. It was an eye-opening experience.
MLB.com: It gave you a better appreciation for what the Dominican players dealt with growing up?
Melancon: Definitely. Guys sign for a lot of money and come out of homes with a dirt floor. They buy some frivolous things right away because they've always dreamed about that, so you can't fault them, and hopefully you can teach them and help them understand money better. I think for the most part, once they get to the big leagues, guys have started to understand the financial side of things, too.
MLB.com: But then you have a reputation for being involved in trying to help less fortunate folks.
Melancon: I've tried to teach camp through Major League Baseball, and traveled to quite a few different countries, South Africa and New Zealand, China, Australia, the Dominican, I think I'm missing somewhere else, trying to spread the game throughout the world. Now, the World Baseball Classic, I feel like this year really helped. If we can get out to different parts of the world, different corners and teach kids something new, it's an opportunity to help them.
MLB.com: It's a way to help them, or is it a way for you to pay back baseball for what it has provided you?
Melancon: Both. When I was young, there were a lot of people who really took care of me and helped me. If it weren't for my Little League coach, and quite a few other people when I was young, I definitely wouldn't be here. So I have a lot to be thankful for, and that's just kind of a special place in my heart to help young kids.
MLB.com: As far as your own career, you go from the Yankees to the Astros and things go well. Then, you go to Boston. Did you feel your career was getting sidetracked? As far as your own career, I mean, you go from the Yankees to Houston, right?
Melancon: Yeah, it was such a weird path for me. You know, I got sent down in 2012 after just a really bad month. That is another part of my career that now I'm so thankful for, because I got put in my place and sent down to Triple-A to where I told myself, "If I don't really figure it out and get going, I may never be back in the big leagues," and that was after I'd closed for a year in Houston. I had some success with the Astros. So to get sent out, that time in my life was tough, and it made me so much stronger. If it wouldn't have happened, I don't know if my success would have been the same.
MLB.com: So instead of a bitterness, there is a thankfulness that you got the wake-up call?
Melancon: It was an unanswered prayer type thing.
MLB.com: Then you go to Pittsburgh and things take off.
Melancon: Pittsburgh was obviously a great part of my career, and a lot of people there helped me. Just a fun three and a half, four years.
MLB.com: Didn't you at one point say you would have liked to stay in Pittsburgh because you felt you owed them something?
Melancon: I definitely felt like I owed them a lot. They gave me so much opportunity, and, you know, the ability to do what I did. It is a great city, great fans and good people in the organization.
MLB.com: When you are dealt to Washington, did you know your stay there would be brief? Or did you think you might stay there long-term?
Melancon: I actually thought they might offer me a deal, prior to free agency, just given the trade. But I wasn't shocked either way, but I thought there was an opportunity that I could be there longer.
Video: SF@SD: Melancon notches first save with the Giants
MLB.com: When you go out on the free-agent market, you had some conversations with the Rockies?
Melancon: There was definitely some conversation there. I would have liked to see it come down to the wire, but San Francisco was just there for the entire time. Colorado came in a little bit later and said it would like to do something. We just didn't feel like it was as realistic as San Francisco.
MLB.com: You are one guy who has never been afraid to pitch at Coors Field.
Melancon: Growing up in Colorado helped. I didn't know any different. You just don't worry about it.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.