Taking a Moment to Appreciate the Underdogs

Let me start by saying, if you didn't read Jon Marthaler's post yesterday, skip mine for now and go do yourself the favor of reading it. Fantastic, fantastic work.

Done yet? Ok, good. Back to my rambling.

Every offseason carries countless minor league signings for every team. Some get a lot of attention -- specifically if they're formerly successful big leaguers -- while others end up as a bullet point in a news story that few take the time to even read. Fans at Florida and Arizona parks in March who are there as much for the weather as for the game will see a number somewhere in the 80-90 range, hear a name they don't recognize, and maybe flip through the program to read the name they'll soon forget. These guys don't have the chance to make the roster. They're relishing their days in a big league camp, knowing that a roster cut with their name on it is coming, and smiling all the way to the chopping block. They soak up knowledge from veterans and dream of being regulars themselves one day, if they're young enough. For the journeymen who populate camps every year, they might just hope for a cup of coffee in a pinch so that they can tell their wide-eyed grandkids what it was like to make contact on a Justin Verlander heater -- even if it was just a weak foul ball.

As fans, we may often roll our eyes at these signings, ignore them, or sometimes ask "who the [insert expletive of choice] is this guy?" Rarely do we allow ourselves to be caught up in the narrative behind a minor league signing, especially one who will only be competing for a Double-A job, but in my case, Chris Colabello's story was too great to pass up.

The first time I heard Colabello's name was, not surprisingly, as a bullet point in an Aaron Gleeman article. Gleeman covers anything and everything related to the Twins it seems, and I'm grateful to him for including Colabello's story.

Colabello was the 2011 Baseball America Independent Leagues Player of the Year. The righty-swinging first baseman hit .348/.410/.600 with 20 big flies in 92 games for the Worcester Tornadoes of the Can-Am League in 2011 -- his seventh season in the league. Over those seven seasons, Colabello is a career .317/.390/.514 hitter. He's spent the majority of his career at first base, but has also seen time at third base and in the outfield.

Believing his college numbers were draft-worthy, Colabello instead endured the pain of being glanced over in not one, but two First Year Player Drafts. He made the 60-man tryout roster for Italy's World Baseball Classic team in 2006, but didn't make the club. Following that tryout, he was told by the Tigers that it was a pleasure to see him "outwork and outplay guys," but that in the end, it came down to "a numbers thing" as they cut him loose during Spring Training in 2006. Still, Colabello hasn't quit.

Rather than follow his father's footsteps to play in the Italian professional leagues, Colabello has elected to stay in the States to continue his Independent career, hoping for a chance to latch on with another affiliated team. The Italian slugger has remained dedicated and kept faith that he'll get another chance, even as the calendar has turned and his age has inched closer to 30. He was 21 in his first season with the Tornadoes, and will be 28 years old when he reports to Spring Training to compete for the first base job at Double-A New Britain.

As the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported, Colabello's second chance at affiliated ball will be this Spring, courtesy of your Minnesota Twins.

The Can-Am League's competition level is roughly akin to that of Double-A, so it's not as if Colabello would be in over his head. His drive and determination are the kind of traits that make it impossible to root against him. His perseverance appeals to the wide-eyed dreaming kid that still lives within all of us, truly believing that if he puts his mind to it, he can take one step closer toward that dream. Inspired by his father, a left-handed pitcher, he's refused to put that wide-eyed internal dreamer to bed like so many of us have.

And, with Chris Parmelee graduating from Double-A (be it to Triple-A Rochester or the Twins... hopefully Rochester for now), there's an opening for Colabello to seize. He may be a long shot, but it seems that being a long shot is all he's ever asked for. I know one thing for sure -- if he latches on at Double-A, I'll be tracking his every move this year and pulling for him. Whether or not he lasts in the Twins organization, Colabello has made a fan out of me by reminding me that each and every minor league signing you see comes with a story worth telling, regardless of the role they're trying to win. Everyone loves an underdog. Good luck, Chris.

Steve Adams also writes for MLBTradeRumors.com, RotoAuthority.com, and MLB.com Fantasy Baseball. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve

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