I don't want to get stuck there; I have a lot left to do. It's awesome to have a nice month or a nice week or whatever -- don't get me wrong -- but the season’s 162 games. You don't just play the month of April.
-- Chris Colabello, April 26, 2014
Chris Colabello often begins his sentences with the phrase, "At the end of the day" when he is trying to make a particularly important point. The sentence is often viewed as a verbal crutch, a meaningless idiom someone uses when they have trouble emphasizing a point, but for Colabello -- a well-spoken Economics major from Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. -- it symbolizes his philosophy on baseball. He believes that to succeed in a game that the 30-year-old has played professionally since age 21, he must conquer the moments that make up the larger timeline..
On April 23, Colabello was hitting .346 with a .962 combined on-base and slugging percentage (OPS). Between then and the day he was sent down. May 25, he hit .110 with a .331 OPS. As Kurt Suzuki continued his hot streak and Chris Parmelee caught fire and was called up after being dumped from the 40-man roster, Colabello was not only removed from the cleanup spot, but from the lineup in general. So when Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham came back from the disabled list, it was Colabello that was sent down to Rochester. And it was on that day that he delivered perhaps the most somber of his at the end of the day lines. "Playing", he said while standing outside his locker room, looking glum, "is what it's all about at the end of the day."
There are a series of Colabello truisms, many of which he has punctuated with his patented phrase:
At the end of the day, it comes back down to what I talk about all the time: It's the ability to go up and have a competitive at-bat regardless of the situation, regardless of if you're down 10-1 or up 10-1 or whatever the scoreboard says. It can't dictate the way you play the game.
At the end of the day, you have to put yourself in a position as a hitter to execute when you get mistakes, and it's a combination of things. You hit balls hard, they get caught, all of a sudden you look up and, 'Well, I haven't gotten as many hits as I had before.’
At the end of the day, you're trying to figure out what other guys did when they went through the same situation you did.
These can all sound like platitudes heard in any locker room from any professional athlete: You have to have competitive at-bats; you have to put yourself in a position to execute; you have to figure out what other guys did and learn from it. But what separates Colabello from the average player is his knowledge of the game and his ability to relate complicated baseball concepts to those around him.
Every at-bat is a battle with the ball, for example. It is not a battle with the pitcher or the pitch count or the conditions that day. It is with the ball. Because as soon as the leather leaves a pitcher's hands, he no longer has control over it, and it is in that moment where the ball is traveling from his hand to the plate that the hitter is in control. The ball has left the pitcher's hands. He can spin it, sink it or hurl it 95 mph -- it doesn't matter. If a hitter can conquer that moment, he can put that ball in play.
Colabello had many memorable moments in the first month of the season, but none was more memorable than a home run he hit in Tampa Bay on April 23. As Marney Gellner interviewed Colabello’s parents, Silvana and Lou, in the outfield seats at Tropicana Field, he hit a ball past the 404-yard marker in center field, only a few feet away from where his parents were seated. The best part of all of this was that, well, it was his mother's birthday that day.
You can't make that stuff up.
But Colabello doesn't dwell on those moments. Asked only three days later if he has reflected on his season so far, especially that day, he said he had not. "Maybe I could have done more," he said. "If I start thinking about what I have done or what I have accomplished -- that's for the end of the season. That's for the last day, [then] you start thinking about what the numbers say."
Immediately following his quote about trying to figure out what other players did when they were in his position -- in this case he specifically mentioned Twins coaches Tom Brunansky and Paul Molitor, two former players -- he dropped this mind-bender: "Rich said something to me early in my career, 'We're all just messengers in this game.' I'm not inventing anything new. I'm not creating a new formula. I'm just passing along information that somebody gave me." Rich, in this case, is former major leaguer Rich Gedman, his manager when he played for the Worcester Tornadoes in the independent Canadian-American League.
Sure, Colabello acknowledges that sabermetrics have changed the way that people approach the game, and the economics major certainly has the mental horsepower to crunch the numbers, but he says that the Society for American Baseball Research has not fundamentally changed the game that Gedman played in the 80s and early 90s. "I've always been a numbers guy, but the more I'm around the game, the more I understand that it's not about the numbers as it is about individual moments that create numbers," he says. "Numbers are created over the course of individual moments."
When you put yourself in search of a number, you start to create or force or expect or whatever. As a player, when you get caught doing that -- every time I got caught doing that in my life, I've failed. Miserably. You look up at the numbers, and they are what they are. You can't judge a guy on his numbers until the season's over.
So at the end of the day, numbers don't matter to Colabello. He could be hitting .350, .250 or .150, but his goal the next morning is to beat the ball. He is going to capture the moment where the ball has left the pitcher's hand and capitalize on it. It is failure to execute that caused Colabello to go from the player he was in April to the one he was in May. He may have seen his batting average dip from around .300 to below .250, but at the time he was sent down, he was still leading the team in RBIs. At the end of the day, Colabello said, he stopped executing in that moment, that split second where he is in control and the pitcher is not. And make no mistake; the Twins had a tough time sending him down. "It sucked," manager Ron Gardenhire said a day after Colabello was reassigned.
That's not fun because I like having him here in the first place. He had a heck of a first month, we all know he struggled, we know he’s had a hard time.
"He's great for the ballclub, roots for everybody, cheers for everybody, but it's all about results, and he's been struggling lately."
It's tough to send him down because his knowledge of Spanish allows him to be the clubhouse translator. It's tough to send him down because he never once complained about losing his spot in the lineup. It's tough to send him down because he was more than willing to share his knowledge of the game with anybody and everybody who would speak with him. "You've got to have people that [you can talk to], those outlets. You have to have outlets to eliminate frustration. People that help you get in the right frame of mind. For me, personally, that's what Rich Gedman was for me for a lot of years," Colabello says. "When you grow a personal attachment to someone over the course of time, you figure out who you are a little better, how to push the right buttons. Obviously you hope to do that with people here, and I think I have started to for sure."
Colabello has formed a meaningful relationship with Aaron Hicks and has served as his mentor during his time in the major leagues. The great irony is that the center fielder is everything Colabello is not. Hicks is a great defensive player; Colabello is a below-average outfielder. Hicks is a first-rounder; Colabello went undrafted. Hicks skipped Triple-A; Colabello played seven years of independent ball. Hicks hails from the West Coast; Colabello is from the East Coast. And if a player is in his athletic prime from 26-32, Hicks is two years away from entering his physical peak, and Colabello has only two years left.
"Hicks is a tremendous athlete and obviously his skillset speaks for itself," says Colabello. "Everybody in the room knows about his skillset, and I got to come up with Hicksy. The sky's the limit with him, and he's certainly making adjustments every day and working hard to get to the place he has to be."
It was Colabello who Hicks turned to when he was contemplating going from a switch-hitter, something he had done his whole life, to exclusively hitting from the right side of the plate. "When I approached him with the decision that I made that I was going to become a right-handed hitter, he was like, 'Hey, you know what? If that's what you believe in your heart, then go ahead and do it.' He just said, 'Do you. Do you.'" Hicks said. "It definitely made my decision easier for me."
Hicks was so confident in his decision that he pulled Gardenhire aside as he walked through the clubhouse on the morning of May 26, unsolicited, and told him he was going to hit right-handed from now on. His whole life, Hicks had been a switch-hitter, something his father had encouraged him to do growing up. That day he went 2-for-4 from the right side of the plate against Nick Tepesch of the Texas Rangers, a righty.
Even early in the year, before Colabello broke Kirby Puckett's record for RBIs in April or gave his mother a souvenir on her birthday, Hicks raved about Colabello's leadership ability. "He's really outspoken," Hicks said. "A leader? I would say yeah because he's a guy that wants to win. He loves to compete, and those are the guys that you need in the clubhouse."
Colabello loves to compete, but what separates him as a leader is his patience with others and willingness to get to know them. Hicks is one of the most misunderstood people in the Twins organization. At every level he says that his coaches thought he was "cadillacing," in his parlance, because his natural ability allowed him to run and swing the bat so effortlessly. "Yeah, I'm a relaxed player," he said. "Every time I have a new manager they always say it to me, but then the more games they see, it's just what it looks like. I'm making all the plays and doing everything right. What can you do?"
It was Colabello who took the time to get to know Hicks during their tenure in Double-A and in the majors. The two eventually became roommates and say they had constant communication while they were together on the road. "He's a pretty quiet guy for the most part, not really emotional," Colabello says of Hicks. "He cares. He cares a lot. A lot of times, people don't necessarily" -- he pauses for a second -- "he's a tough guy to read."
The two will be separated now that Colabello has been sent down to Rochester, and it is during this trying month that he has reminded himself of what Gedman told him years ago. "There's probably a range where guys belong, where guys fit into their whole lives," he says. "Rich used to say, 'Your range is anywhere between .270 and .330.' He said, 'You're going to find a way to be in there at the end of the year when it's all said and done. That's who you are.'"
"I don't care what you play: Little League, Babe Ruth, high school, college, not many people hit .300 six years in a row. There's an art to it, an understanding of it," Gedman said when asked about Colabello's stats in the Can-Am league. "Knowing how to do it, regardless of the level you're playing at, you're doing something that some people can do and other people can't, and he’s one of those kids."
So yes, there will be times when Colabello leaves the ballpark, and the scoreboard shows a batting average lower than .300. But at the end of the day, he believes he's a .300 hitter. And if that is true, this isn't the last we’ve seen of Chris Colabello.
Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.