Steve Delabar's improbable rise
Despite long odds, shattered elbow, pitcher persevered
"By the fifth year, I'm thinking, 'If I'm not in Double-A this year, clearly baseball's not good for me,'" Delabar said.
According to a 2007 study of 5,989 Major League position players who began their career between 1902 and 1993, a rookie can expect to play in the Majors for 5.6 years.
Sometimes, though, the worst of times can turn out to be for the best. In Delabar's case, it was a broken elbow that put him on the path to The Show. He was on the Mariners' Opening Day roster this year.
He'd been the 29th-round pick (851st overall) by San Diego in 2003 -- a year after the Angels selected him in the 43rd round (1,283rd overall) but didn't sign him.
After pitching in 112 games (64 starts), the Padres cut him loose in May 2008. Most players might take that as a hint that it was time to consider another career.
Instead, he signed with the Florence Freedom, an independent league team about 100 miles from his Elizabethtown, Ky., home, "so my family could see me play. Five days after I signed with them, I got traded to the Brockton Rox," just south of Boston.
In 2009, pitching in his 12th game for Brockton, Delabar shattered his right elbow.
"It was like, 'Pow!' It was broken in three places," he said. "They needed a metal plate and nine screws to put it back together.
"When I asked if I could still pitch, they just stared at me. I kind of knew what they were thinking. But at that point I was still optimistic. Like, 'It's just a bone. It'll heal.'"
"The plate's still in there," he said. "Once in a while I set off an alarm going through airport security."
Delabar, who had attended Volunteer State Community College, turned to substitute teaching in Elizabethtown, "second grade through senior," he said. "The sub is the guy who keeps everything in order, the babysitter. You get through the day with no problems, it's a successful day."
He also was the school's assistant baseball coach and was asked to look into a local velocity pitching program for his pitchers. He decided to take the course in order to better explain it to his players. In the process, he revived his career.
His pitch speed while in the Padres' system had topped out at about 92 mph. But in the program, he was throwing 97-98. He called Brian Williams, a Mariners coach he'd met before.
"I asked him if he could come by for a look-see," said Delabar, who didn't want to call it quits and wonder later if he'd given it his best shot.
Williams liked what he saw. A second tryout confirmed it. On April 30, 2011, after not pitching in a game for a year, Delabar signed a Minor League contract.
The Mariners sent him to extended Spring Training in Arizona. In six months, he jumped to Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A, where he posted a 10-game ERA of 0.69 with 18 strikeouts in 13 innings. Then he made the Mariners' roster.
Delabar made his Major League debut Sept. 11, 2011, with a no-hit, two-strikeout inning against the Royals. He got his first win three days later, when he pitched a perfect top of the 12th against the Yankees before Luis Rodriguez hit a walk-off home run.
"I was just the pitcher of record," Delabar said. "But getting that first win was awesome."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.