Minnesota Twins first baseman Chris Colabello throws to first to retire Boston Red Sox's David Ross in the third inning of an exhibition baseball game Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, in Fort Myers, Fla. The Twins won 8-2 over the Red Sox. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
FORT MYERS, FLA. – Milford is a town on the edge of Greater Boston, the very heart of Red Sox country. Somehow, Lou Colabello managed to reach high school there as a fan of the Dodgers.
“I was a lefthanded pitcher,” Colabello said. “In the late ’50s and the ’60s, there was one lefty … Sandy Koufax. I grew up idolizing Sandy and rooting for the Dodgers.”
Colabello made his way from Milford to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. As a sophomore, Lou was 3-2 with a team-leading 2.62 ERA and the Minutemen reached the 1969 College World Series.
“That was a good enough season for me that it looked like I was going to have a career,” Lou said. “Then, I was playing basketball that winter, came down wrong, tore all the ligaments in an ankle, and missed most of the next season.
“I disappeared off the Earth as far as the baseball scouts knew.”
Colabello was teaching and pitching summer ball in the Boston Park League. Late in 1976, a friend of American Legion baseball — Ed Orizzi — called and said his team in the Italian League, Rimini, was looking for a pitcher, and was Lou interested?
Lou’s response: “Baseball in Italy. Are you crazy?”
“Rimini is on the Adriatic Sea … the Italian Riviera,” Lou said. “You pitched once a week and laid on the beach the rest of the time.”
He pitched for Rimini for eight years. He met Silvana and they were married in 1981. They were in Massachusetts in October 1983 when a son, Chris, was born.
Lou’s pitching career ended in 1984. Later, he coached at San Marino, and then worked as a team manager for the Forli basketball team for five years. His star was Darryl Dawkins.
The Colabellos resettled in the Boston area in 1994. Lou returned to teaching and coaching. Chris had inherited his father’s passion for baseball. He was a lanky 6-4 and a righthanded hitter.
Lou’s lack of ardor for the hometown Red Sox was increased when they worked out Chris, told him he would be taken in the first 20 rounds, then didn’t draft him out of Assumption College in 2005.
Chris wound up with the Worcester [Mass.] Tornadoes of the independent Can-Am League. The manager was Rich Gedman, former standout catcher for Lou’s danged Red Sox.
“I was a pull hitter; always had been,” Colabello said. “I remember my first batting practice, Rich Gedman said, ‘Try to hit a line drive to second base. See if you can do it.’ I didn’t hit a home run to right field as a professional until 2011.”
Lou said: “He’s not lying.”
Colabello was in his seventh season of independent baseball when he hit that first right-field home run. The Twins signed him on a flier at age 28 on Feb. 2, 2012, to perhaps fill a spot in the minors.
Sixteen months later, on May 22, 2013, he made his major league debut with the Twins. He had found great success at Class AAA Rochester with an odd hitting approach:
Standing well off the plate, inviting a pitch away, and then using long arms and strength to drive the ball to right field.
“I wasn’t a big fan of it, but when he’s putting up those numbers … I wasn’t going to be the guy to tell him to change,” Lou said.
Colabello batted .352 with 24 home runs and 76 RBI in 338 at-bats at Rochester.
What Class AAA pitchers saw as a mystery in Colabello’s approach, big-league pitchers saw as an invitation to blow inside fastballs past him. He batted .194 with seven home runs, 17 RBI and 58 strikeouts in 160 at-bats. He had an offer to go Korea for sizable bucks this winter.
“[Twins GM] Terry Ryan said, ‘Whatever you want to do,’ but he also said that I would have a chance to make the Twins,” Colabello said. “That’s all I wanted to hear.”
Colabello is now closer to the plate and not aimed toward right field. So far, he’s doing OK with inside pitches and hitting well. He’s got a shot to open with the big club.
“All I can tell you about Chris is he’ll be playing baseball as long as someone gives him a uniform,” Lou said. “I think he might love the game even more than his dad.”
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org
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