On July 30th, 2012 the Toronto Blue Jays acquired hard throwing reliever Steve Delabar in exchange for outfielder Eric Thames. At the time of the transaction, the Jays were playing Seattle so both players switched respective dugouts and carried on with their new teams. Here is an email interview I conducted with Delabar in which he discusses his thoughts on being traded to the Jays, his long road back returning from an arm injury and the story behind his major league debut.
“During the trade deadline, stranger things have happened and I hadn’t thrown for five or six days. I knew it was a possibility of being traded but didn’t think it would happen. I was called into the office and informed of the trade by the manager Eric Wedge and GM Jack Zduriencik. After the news, I was contacted and welcomed by Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. Being as the Blue Jays were in Seattle at the time, my transition to another team was seamless as all I had to do was switch clubhouses,” said Delabar.
The 29-year-old wasted no time impressing Blue Jays fans with his blazing fastball and 14.1 SO/9 rate out of the pen.
“I’d have to attribute better location of the fastball and using my splitter more often to keep hitters off balance with the K/9 rate. I have no idea what kind of numbers I’ll accumulate this season, but I’ve trained as hard as I can this off-season and put myself in the best situation to succeed during the season.”
Not bad for a guy that had resorted to supply teaching at a local high-school and playing competitive softball after an arm injury threatened put his baseball career in jeopardy.
“In 2009, I was experiencing some pain in my pitching arm. I continued to pitch through the pain because our team was making a playoff run and I wanted to be a part of it. I did get a chance to be a part of the playoff run, but I didn’t get to play. August 21, 2009, I was pitching in a game and during one pitch I felt a “pop” in my elbow. There was a catcher’s interference call on the pitch, so I was able to gather myself a little while the manager shared some words with the umpire. I continued to throw three more pitches. The first two were high in the zone and I didn’t feel anything wrong with my elbow. I needed to get back in the count, so I reached out a little more on the next pitch and that’s when I felt a much larger “POP”! From that point on I told myself I’d play again, but the likelihood of that happening was slim. I had surgery September 29, 2009 to have a plate and nine screws in my elbow to repair a fractured olecranon and so began my return to baseball.
Since physical activities were limited, Delabar spent his injury time focusing on a different career path and went back to school to become a teacher.
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“During the 2010 summer, my competitive baseball void was filled with traveling and playing softball. I also began coaching at a local high school as the pitching coach and started substitute teaching. With a full plate of softball, coaching and substituting at John Hardin High School, full-time student at University of Louisville, and pitching instructor at Players Dugout, real life was taking place of my baseball life.”
A new throwing program came was introduced to the school’s baseball facility and it gave Delabar the chance to return to professional baseball.
“This Next Generation Velocity program was designed to increase the strength of the shoulder and hopefully reduce the amount of injuries across the country. I began with the program with the intention of teaching the new product to younger baseball players. In the process, I saw my velocity go from 86-89 mph to 94-96 mph. With being 27 years old, I knew my window to get to the big leagues was closing and had doubts that I could even get a job. A local Mariners scout was free on March 21 (first day of the high school season). I had to call and get our starting catcher out of school to catch me at the Players Dugout. After my workout, the process began on getting paperwork together because I had some “red flags” with the hardware I had (and still have) in my elbow. Once the paperwork was submitted to the Mariners’ doctors, I was awarded with an individual tryout in Arizona.”
After checking out Delabar at the tryout, the Mariners decided to take a gamble and sign him to a minor league contract. This began the long road back to his dream of playing in the majors.
“I spent a week and a half in Arizona in their Extended Spring Training. May 1, I was shipped out to High Desert, high-A, California League. Being 27, I was probably the oldest player in the league and was a couple bad outings away from hanging it up. I had to sit back and ask myself I was being realistic, but several good outings rewarded me with a promotion to double-A, Jackson Generals, Southern League on May 23. Being as I had never played about single-A I started to change my perspective and see where this journey takes me. I had a couple good months in Jackson and felt I would finish the summer there. On August 6, I was once again promoted this time to Tacoma, triple-A, Pacific Coast League. After a good month in Tacoma and being told the chances of being called up were slim-to-none because of roster spots available on the 40-man roster, I had already called home and informed family that I’d be home on the day after the triple-A season. That never happened, as after the finale of the triple-A season, I was called into the manager’s office and was told that my childhood dreams were about to become a reality.”
The journey for Delabar came full circle in 2011 when he was promoted to the major leagues by the Mariners.
“Daren Brown, manager of the Tacoma Rainiers, called me into his office and said, “Steve, why don’t you take a seat. Why don’t you tell me what you were doing this time last year?” I proceeded to explain all the new endeavors I had taken up. He continues, “Well, it seems you’ve had a complete life change in a year’s time. It’s guys like you that make me love my job and enjoy giving you the news that you’ll be joining the big league team.”
Delabar then boarded a flight to join the big club in Anaheim where they were playing the Angels.
“When we got to the field I searched for my locker and sure enough, I had one! I was in the corner next to the King, Felix Hernandez, and of all days it was high start day. Being the new guy, I didn’t want to disrupt anybody’s routine especially the starting pitcher that day. So I tried to tuck myself into my locker and stay out of the way. My family had come to see me for the first six days of my call-up. I didn’t get in a game until the seventh day. On September 11, 2011, I made my major league debut against the Kansas City Royals in Seattle. I can’t really recall anything from that day because it was a blur, but I have video and pictures from that day, that I can go back and see where my baseball dreams came true.”
In his short time north of the border Delabar already achieved his greatest baseball accomplishment as a member of the Jays.
“I had the four strikeout day last year, but I’d have to say my most proud baseball accomplishment is just getting to the MLB. Anything can happen when get to the major league level, but overcoming the obstacles I had to in order to get there makes getting to the major leagues my most proud baseball accomplishment.”
Delabar will be an integral piece in the Blue Jays bullpen and is chomping at the bit to get the season underway.
“Excitement level is sky-high! As a player you always want to be in a situation to win, and the front office group has really put together a good on-field product.”
Good thing pitchers and catchers report on February 12, Blue Jays fever is coming faster than a Delabar fastball.
Reliever Rapid Fire as answered by Steve Delabar:
2013 Breakout Pitcher: Brandon Morrow
2013 Breakout Player: Brett Lawrie
2013 Walkout Music: Undecided
Strangest Thing You Have Autographed: A Baby
Bullpen Character Who Keeps Players Loose: Casey Janssen
Anyone Ever Charged The Mound At You: Yes, 2006, bench clearing brawl in Ft. Wayne with Ft. Wayne Wizards vs. West Michigan White Caps
Longest HR Hit Off You: A-Rod, in Seattle. BOMB over the beer garden in center field, and it’s not easy to hit a ball there.
Favourite MLB Park: All are great, but Colorado is beautiful
Hitter You Hate Facing: Michael Young, great hitter and a true professional
Clayton Richer is a baseball writer for Baseball Hot Corner, his interviews and blogs can be found daily at www.baseballhotcorner.com as well you can also follow him on twitter MLBHotCorner