Last week, the Twitter airwaves overflowed in response to the MLB’s Final Vote campaign. Would the more deserving Freddie Freeman capture the final spot on the National League roster, or would it be the Cuban Phenom Yasiel Puig who burst onto the scene like few others in history have.
While the fans passionately cast their votes for one player or the other and media outlets drooled over the high-profile matchup, there was a similar vote taking place in the American League, one that was blinded by the bright lights of its counterpart. It was here where the real story laid.
Last Thursday, 29-year-old journeyman Steve Delabar found out he would be representing the American League with the final roster spot. His journey to this summit was anything but ordinary.
Delabar was selected in the 43rd round of the 2002 MLB Player Draft by the former Anaheim Angels. Unsatisfied with this result, Delabar forewent the Angels offer and reentered the draft in 2003. In his second attempt, the right-hander was selected in the 29th round of the 2003 draft by the San Diego Padres. On May 12th, 2004 he realized his childhood dream and signed his first Major League contract with San Diego.
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However, Delabar’s future did not pan out exactly the way he thought it would. He spent nearly five years bouncing around Low-A ball until 2009, when he heard a sound in his elbow, a loud pop that changed the course of his career -- and his life -- forever.
Delabar had suffered a massive fracture in his elbow that required nine screws and a large metal plate to repair. Delabar and his doctors came to the brutal realization that his professional baseball career was over.
Delabar returned to his hometown of Elizabethtown, Ky., where he pursued his associate teaching degree and accepted his fate as a high school gym teacher. Delabar was at peace with his current situation but did not stray far from the game. While perusing his degree, Delabar took on numerous substitute teacher positions, ranging from reading stories to second graders to pacifying hormonally-charged high schoolers. His reputation preceded him landing a position as an assistant coach at John Hardin High School for the 2010 season.
In an effort to better the team’s young pitchers, Delabar sought out velocity improvement programs but would not let his players enroll in the program until he gave it his personal stamp of approval. One year removed from massive elbow surgery, Delabar was back on the bump at The Players' Dugout performance center, where he found much more than he was looking for.
After the first few weeks. Delabar felt no pain in his elbow and saw that his own velocity began to improve. He was seeing extraordinary gains and eventually reached a consistent velocity in the mid-90’s, faster than before his injury where he topped out around 90 miles per hour.
The newfound speed led to a resurgence of confidence for Delabar and in 2011, he attended a tryout for the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners saw great potential in Delabar and signed him to a minor league contract. This time around, Delabar climbed the ranks with relative ease, vaulting from Single-A to Double-A and then Triple-A in a matter of months.
On Sept. 6th, 2011 Delabar answered a call that he never thought would come -- the Mariners had assigned him to their 25-man roster. Five days later, he made his major league debut in relief.
On July 30th, 2012 Delabar was traded to his current club, the Toronto Blue Jays, for outfielder Eric Thames, who currently plays for the Norfolk tides, Baltimore’s triple-A affiliate. This season, Delabar has been nothing short of spectacular for the Blue Jays, touting a 5-1 record with a 1.71 ERA. Even more impressively, he has recorded 58 strikeouts in 42 innings of work, while only allowing 30 hits, eight earned runs and just one home run.
The support for Delabar came in the form of 9.6 million final votes, awarding him a spot in the Mid-Summer Classic and making him only the second relief pitcher to earn the final vote since its inception in 2002.