Playing independent ball is nothing new for Chris Colabello, who played seven seasons before getting the call to join the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays from 2013-15.
This season he continues his professional career back in independent baseball with the Sugar Land Skeeters. In between came an 80-game suspension for alleged use of a banned substance, followed by stints in the Minors and a season playing in Italy.
At the height of his career, Colabello played on the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays team that went to the American League Championship Series, where he belted a solo home run in Game 5 against the Kansas City Royals.
Colabello recently talked about his up-and-down career and his return to independent ball.
“I went to spring training with Detroit in 2006; really I was just there I didn’t make the camp so technically it wasn’t my first official signing,” Colabello said. “But (Skeeters manager) Pete (Incaviglia) had been the AA coach for the Tigers.”
He said their Italian background only added to their connection, along with a friendship with soon-to-be Skeeters teammate Cody Stanley that enticed him to venture to the Lone Star State.
Colabello, originally from Milford, Mass., began his trip to the Majors by first playing with the Worcester Tornadoes and Nashua Pride of the Canadian-American Association. The Minnesota Twins picked him up in 2012 where he played in their farm system. Between 2013-14 he played 114 games on the big stage with the Twins.
He was released by the Twins at the end of the season and picked up by the Blue Jays in 2015. Going into the 2016 season, following a postseason appearance where Colabello registered a .282 average in 10 playoff games, he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug that resulted in an 80-game suspension. He said then and now that he still doesn’t understand how the test came back positive. That ended his career in the Majors.
He remained at the AAA level the next three seasons with the Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers. Last season he played in Italy, where he grew up and his father played for their Olympic team in 1984. He was last in the Mexican League before getting Incaviglia’s call to join the Skeeters.
“My biggest thing was that I was not going to be ready for the first game of the season so I told him, ‘If you can tolerate me coming May 24 I think I can do it,’” Colabello recalled. “Ended up meeting the team in Long Island and we were off to the races.”
From there, the 35-year-old said he’s fit in well both with those older and those younger than him, an aspect he’s grown used to over his 14-year career.
“I think one of the things I enjoy the most about the game is being able to pass along messages that really helped me and there’s something inherently built-in (to being an older player),” he said. “I don’t feel like I should know more or less; you see people going through things and you wanna help because that allows you to help alleviate some of the original stressors and rigors that you go through yourself. That’s always been consistent whether I’m 25 or 35.”
He said no matter what level he’s playing at, it’s important to be in the right mindset.
“If you’re convincing your brain you’re good, you’re good. If you’re convincing your brain you’re manure, then you’re manure,” he said.
Colabello is currently on pace to meet up with the Italian national team, which he competed with at the World Baseball Classic last year thanks to the citizenship he gained when he went to elementary school there. That’s where his parents are at the moment.
“I think everybody’s just happy I’m still playing because they know how much I still have left for the game and I say that wholeheartedly from the position of I can still hit,” Colabello said. “My numbers might not say it right now, but I know I can hit. I know, given the time and the opportunity, I’ll figure it out. I always have, I always will, and that goes back to fighting the right battles every day and things open themselves up I think anybody that knows me, knows I belong on a baseball field.”
His time on the baseball diamond is not coming to an end in the near future, although his time in the Atlantic League has found its terminal end. Monday morning, Colabello submitted his retirement forms from the Sugar Land Skeeters but mentioned his focus was shifting to international play soon anyway.
“I have to meet with the Italian team in the fall, we have European Cup and Olympic qualifiers so as long as I have a uniform on I’ll never say, and this is probably just my naivety and something that developed in me from the time I played in Worcester and when I played for Rich Gedman; as long as you’ve got a uniform on, you’ve got a chance,” Colabello closed.
Closer Felipe Paulino had his contract purchased by the Houston Astros and he was assigned to AAA Round Rock Express. Sugar Land Skeeters signed free agent right-handed pitchers Ricardo Gomez, Carlos Pimentel, and Christian Bergman. Mark Lowe was placed on the seven-day injured list retroactive to June 7.
The Skeeters were to finish up a rain-delayed game on Monday, followed by a regular game against the New Britain Bees to end a week-long homestand. The play a three-game series at the York Revolution beginning Tuesday and on Friday start a three-game series at New Britain. They are off next Monday and return home June 25 for six games against the High Point Rockers, a new team making their first visit to Constellation Field.
June 28 will have post-game fireworks. June 29 will feature a patriotic hat giveaway. June 30 is Swatson’s birthday, featuring area mascots.
As of Sunday, the Skeeters magic number to clinch the first half championship and a playoff spot was 14. They are up by nine games in the Freedom Division.
Skeeter of the Week
Pitcher Dallas Beeler threw seven shutout innings to pick up a 4-0 win Saturday against the New Britain Bees. He matched the longest outing from a Skeeters pitcher this season.
Atlantic League standings
Wins – Losses – Games back
Sugar Land Skeeters 30-22-0
York Revolution 21-31-9
Lancaster Barnstormers 18-29-9.5
S. Maryland Blue Crabs 16-35-13.5
Long Island Ducks 31-18-0
Somerset Patriots 30-19-1
High Point Rockers 29-23-3.5
New Britain Bees 26-24-5.5
Skeeters 6, Barnstormers 5
Skeeters 8, Barnstormers 4
Barnstormers 12, Skeeters 5
Barnstormers 8, Skeeters 2
Bees 4, Skeeters 1
Skeeters 4, Bees 0
Bees 10, Skeeters 9
Skeeters 4, Bees 3