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Chris Colabello gave his all in right field, hitting the turf to make a diving catch on a ball hit by Eric Sogard in the second inning of the Twins’ home opener.

CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com,

Scoggins: Biggest believer in Colabello is himself

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS
  • Star Tribune
  • April 8, 2014 - 12:22 PM

Chris Colabello hit a single in the first inning Monday. He made a diving catch that turned into a double play in the second inning. He drew a walk in the third inning.

Too bad he can’t pitch, too. That would really make his fast start something to behold. Seriously, can somebody please tell the Twins pitchers that the season has started already?

If a floundering pitching staff qualifies as the biggest talker of the Twins’ first seven games, the play of Colabello deserves a 1-A designation.

Colabello made an emergency start in right field and extended his hitting streak to all seven games in an 8-3 loss to the Oakland A’s in the home opener at Target Field.

Colabello also struck out twice, the second time for the final out, on a day in which he was named co-American League Player of the Week. Apparently, the guy is human after all.

Colabello entered Monday with an AL-best 11 RBI, which also tied the Twins team record for runs batted in through six games. He has four doubles and is hitting .370.

One week in a baseball season represents the smallest of sample sizes, a pebble on a beach. Nothing that’s happened so far can be viewed in a global context. But it’s also OK to appreciate Colabello’s successful start in the context of the power of patience and perseverance.

“I believed I could play,” he said.

Colabello always clung to that belief, even as he spent seven seasons in a Canadian independent league, even as his chance at the big leagues looked like a pipe dream. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire joked that Colabello didn’t just slip through the cracks, but “he slept in the cracks.”

A path like that can crush a man’s dreams, right?

“Nope, never,” Colabello said. “I believed in my ability to play the game. In 2011, I made a decision that I didn’t need anybody to tell me that I was good. Your whole life you’re searching for approval from other people.”

Signed by the Twins at age 28, Colabello produced at Class AA and then was named International League MVP last season at Class AAA Rochester.

His first major league stint as a call-up last summer included 58 strikeouts in 181 plate appearances. But even that sobering debut did nothing to shake his belief that he belonged.

The Twins had discussions with a South Korean team that offered close to $1 million for Colabello’s rights. General manager Terry Ryan left the final decision to Colabello, who could have doubled his salary by agreeing to play in Korea, or arrive at Twins spring training with no guarantees that he would make the final roster.

Colabello bet on himself.

“It was never about money,” he said. “I played independent ball for seven years and made almost nothing.”

Yeah, but $1 million is a lot of money for a 30-year-old long shot.

“If there was a chance, I wasn’t going anywhere,” Colabello said. “[Ryan] reassured me I had a chance.”

But $1 million versus no guarantees …

“If I didn’t work out and I went to Triple-A, I would have been the same guy,” Colabello said. “Terry said, ‘If you turn this money down, I would hate to have to send you down.’ I said, ‘That’s OK, I had a blast in Rochester.’ If somebody would have told me three years ago that I would open up the 2014 season between Rochester and Minnesota, I would have been like, ‘Man, that’s awesome.’ How am I going to complain?”

Colabello made a mechanical adjustment this offseason by moving closer to the plate. But more than anything, he told himself to relax and stop trying to impress everyone. Just be himself.

“You remember where you are,” he said, “but you also remember that you belong here.”

Colabello looks like he belongs now. He’ll come back to earth at some point, maybe as soon as this week. He gets to keep these memories, though.

The best part of his first week came on Opening Day in Chicago. Colabello was walking with his parents downtown when somebody asked for his autograph. His dad watched with tears in his eyes.

“He said, ‘This is what I dreamed about doing my whole life [but] this is even better to see you doing it,’ ” Chris said.

 

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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