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Fowles: Ghosts of Ballplayers Past

Yesterday it was announced that 33-year-old Christopher Adrian Colabello was again back in the warm embrace of baseball, signing a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers after being released by Cleveland on July 8th.

You may remember Colabello for his incredible 2015 season ascension with the postseason bound Toronto Blue Jays, but it’s more likely that you remember him for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs in March of 2016. (A little recap: Cola was suspended for 80 games without pay, assigned to Triple-A Buffalo for the rest of the season, and eventually opted for free agency in December.) You may also remember that the first baseman rigorously denied knowingly taking said PEDs, and gave a memorable, tearful interview with Sportsnet that, at the very least, left lingering doubt of his guilt in the mind of many a fan who loved and followed his journey.

“I have spent every waking moment since that day trying to find an answer as to why or how?” he said in a statement issued by the MLBPA. “The only thing I know is that I would never compromise the integrity of the game of baseball. I love this game too much. I care too deeply about it.”

Cola’s emotional (and yes, believable) denial of any conscious wrongdoing was likely the reason I saw more than a few nostalgic types nod at the news that he’d found a new home. Despite the disappointment that one of our own—not to mention a quintessential beloved underdog-type—was tainted by the lingering stain of PEDs, there was this sense that, after some time had passed, forgiveness (if necessary) was possible. It was actually nice to see him still in the game and moving forward—after all, it was only two seasons ago that he was pulling us from a drought and helping us win the AL East title.

I know that in the grand scheme of baseball things Cola’s new deal isn’t really all that important—it’s sort of a brief “where are they now” notation during an otherwise frantically buzzing lead up to the trade deadline. But having said that, it does stand out as a sort of commentary on the transience (or the endurance) of our affection for players, especially during a time where there’s a great deal of high profile conjecture about seeing them go via package deals and strategic rebuilds. ‘Tis the season for hellos and goodbyes, I suppose—a time to embrace the idea that this game is as much about irrationally loving total strangers as it is about the necessity of gracefully letting them go.

Like most of you, I have that sad drawer of now defunct Jays jerseys/shirseys, each emblazoned with the name of a player who has departed. (I can’t bear to part with them, so shout out to someone’s great idea of making a kind of “ghosts of ballplayers past” quilt out of them.) Some of these players disappeared unceremoniously into the sands of time, or got on the minors/majors elevator, while others are doing just fine in Washington or Atlanta or Cleveland. Some of them taunt us with their three run blasts and almost no-hitters, stealing our bases or snagging our home runs at the wall.

I mean, the endless talk about whether or not we’re collectively “over” Edwin is enough to fill volumes.

On occasion, I’ll find myself longingly checking in on how Casey Janssen’s doing, a player that was, at one time, my whole pitching world—a piece of 9th inning wonderment who came down with a bout of food poisoning and was seemingly never the same again. (Janssen signed with the Mexican League’s Acereros de Monclova in February, but was released in mid May.) I’ll rail about the way David Price has been treated in Boston, dreamily watching his faraway look in their dugout, and still wishing that whole situation had panned out differently. I’ll recall fondly now-Angel Clifton Randolph Pennington’s incredible postseason moment on the mound every time news of him comes up, hope that Brett Lawrie finally finds a home that’s a good fit, and that Munenori Kawasaki is doing well with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. I even got my phone to send alerts from Adam Lind’s current team—I’ve updated it annually—and smile to myself when I see him doing what he was born to do, glad his new fan base is appreciating him accordingly. (Thanks, Nats.)

I guess, in some ways, every ball player eventually ends up “in the drawer”—whether they are a Halladay or a Buehrle or a Grilli or a Colabello. To be fair, you can get away with wearing some of their jerseys forever, but that list is short and generally reserved for glorious Hall of Fame-bound retirees. (Also, please know this is mostly just a metaphor: you can wear whatever jersey you want.) Sometimes those ghosts of the baseball past will suddenly pop up in our feeds, producing heroic feats elsewhere, or signing shiny new deals, or ending up abroad, or even just sitting in the stands, reminding us of all those “remember when” moments when they do. And every time someone has a casual “thought experiment” chat about what we might get for Josh Donaldson or Marcus Stroman or Roberto Osuna, I hold tight to my remaining tees, trying not to entertain the inevitable reality of one day seeing each of them in someone else’s uniform.

These may not be the kinds of issues we have to contend with right this minute, though many an in-your-face trade deadline rumour and conjecturing Tweeter may want us to. But, as the multi-year fate of this last place team remains uncertain, it’s worth remembering we have dealt with many a grueling goodbye in the past, and that we all got through it just fine.

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  • Moose

    My kid finally outgrew the Halladay shirt that got thrown to him by the dancing aisle girls. It was so huge on him it covered his knees and people in the stands were taking pictures of the cute 6 year kid in the giant shirt. I finally released my Romero shirt into the circular file. Still keeping the Hill shirt for a while though.

  • Jeff2sayshi

    I’ve got only 3 jerseys, all from the angry Jay logo period. Reed Johnson, Scott Rolen, and Brandon Morrow. I’ll gladly wear any of them . They all take you back to a certain time.