A demotion, struggles to control his emotions and a dwindling bank account drove Cole De Vries to the brink of quitting baseball.
The Twins righthander compiled a combined 8-22 record in Class AA and AAA during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. His confidence diminished, frustration mounted and doubts crept in by the end of the 2010 season, when he was 1-8 with a 5.79 ERA.
"I'm getting to the point where I'm asking myself, 'Do I really want to stick this out, see where this goes?'" said De Vries, the Eden Prairie and Gophers product who was signed by the Twins as an undrafted free agent in 2006. "I told my dad that I was on stage one or two of an eight-step process of actually quitting baseball. It's hard playing minor league ball, having a negative bank account every month and putting in all this work and effort and seeing no rewards from it, no monetary rewards."
That was then. Now, De Vries, who will start Friday night against Tampa Bay at Target Field, is solidifying a spot in the Twins rotation. The 27-year-old has surrendered two or fewer runs in five of his seven starts since being summoned from Class AAA Rochester for the second time this season. Oh, and he is brimming with confidence.
"When people doubt you or you're not considered a top prospect, as they call you, you have to outperform people, and when you get a chance, you have to take advantage of it," Twins manager Rod Gardenhire said. "Cole has done a good job. He's given us a lot of quality performances and put himself in a very good position to start in this league."
Losing his composure during his minor league struggles almost led to a completely different career path.
De Vries became so despondent after losses that he would lash out in anger. It started in college and followed him to the minors. Rick Aberman, a Minneapolis-based sports psychologist, has worked with De Vries since the pitcher's junior year with the Gophers in 2006.
"My job was to help him understand that he is choosing to play baseball instead of needing to play baseball," Aberman said. "When we choose to do something, we're less inhibited and more willing to take the risk in order to be successful. When we feel we need to do something, we're not going to take those risks and we don't feel as free. That's what Cole had to understand during that period."
De Vries said his father, Dave, understood why Cole was questioning his future in 2010. Still, Dave made Cole promise to continue playing until the end of the season, and if his performance didn't change, they would "regroup and re-evaluate what was important,'' Cole said.
As the months passed, De Vries pitched well enough to give baseball another chance and well enough to make his return to Rochester in 2011. Pitching almost entirely as a reliever last year, De Vries had a 3.40 ERA in 45 games between Rochester and Class AA New Britain.
He started this season at Rochester, returning to the starting rotation, and with the Twins desperate for starting pitching, he made his major league debut May 24 against the White Sox in Chicago.
"Some people have said that he couldn't make it, so I'm happy for him," Aberman said. "Not everybody with talent makes it.''
When he was sent back to Rochester the first time in June, De Vries worked on his game and quickly got a second opportunity with the Twins.
"Having some of these prior struggles helped me cope with this," he said. "I could either go back to AAA and pout about it, or go back to AAA, learn from that, and move forward."
With the Twins, De Vries is 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA, 41 strikeouts and 12 walks in 59 innings.
Through the highs and lows, De Vries never forgot why he initially pursued this career choice -- he loved playing baseball. And pitching in front of family and friends in the major leagues is extra special.
"It's the absolute epitome of a dream come true," De Vries said.