When Chris Colabello blasted a solo shot in the second inning off Edison Volquez in the ALCS to help propel the Blue Jays to 7-1 win and force a game six, he put the exclamation point on his incredible fairy tale season. The narrative writes itself: after having languished in the Independent Baseball League for seven years – far longer than many players would have been willing to endure – and playing two mediocre seasons with the Minnesota Twins, Colabello had somehow, finally, fulfilled his dream of becoming a successful major league baseball player via the most unconventional and unlikely of roads. His .321/.367/.520 slash line with 15 home runs and .411 BABIP (earning him the nickname “ColaBABIP”) only tell one part of the story. The other part is that of the affable everyday man, the guy with the quick wit and willingness to give an interview, and the one who came across approachable enough to invite out for a beer. He was the guy for whom every fan, even the most sarcastic, was cheering. He seemed like he could be any one of us, except that he was living his dream right in front of us. He worked hard to pursue his one true passion in life and was finally being rewarded with success. He made a Colabeliever out of all of us.
This is all why Friday’s announcement, that Colabello had been suspended 80 for games due to testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance, was such a blow.
Colabello had been informed on March 13th that he had failed a random drug test. The substance he tested positive for is dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, which is an old-school anabolic steroid that also goes by the name Turinabol. According to Dr. Stuart Phillips, a kinesiology professor at McMaster University, the drug is used primarily to speed recovery time in athletes, not to build bulky muscle. The benefit to a baseball player is faster recovery from injury in order to withstand the rigors of a 162-game season. The drug is no longer manufactured and is something one must seek out, says Dr. Phillips, though it could be taken accidentally due to the fact that it must be ingested orally. That’s exactly the defense that Colabello has presented; that he did not knowingly take dehydrochlormethyltestosterone and issued the following (partial) statement via MLB:
“On March 13, I got one of the scariest and most definitely the least expected phone calls of my entire life. I was informed by the Players Association that a banned substance was found in my urine. I have spent every waking moment since that day trying to find an answer as to why or how? 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.”
There is no doubt that Chris Colabello loved baseball. Why else devote your life to it when, for the most part, there appeared to be little chance at success? But Colabello believed in himself long before anyone had heard of him. Kristina Rutherford of Sportsnet refers to Colabello as being, “obsessed with baseball,” and, in particular, with hitting home runs and batting .300 (both of which he accomplished last season in his limited playing time). This in and of itself is enough for some to cast doubt on Colabello’s insistence of his innocence. As Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star writes: “What would you do, staring at the wrong side of 30, and wallowing in the minors, undrafted, seven long season of independent ball, completely out of the prospect-sifting loop? This is baseball, after all, with a history steeped in steroids, connected to some of the sport’s biggest stars. What about the bush-league journeyman running out of time?” According to DiManno, someone close to the team wondered aloud if the “temptation for a kick-start call-up in Toronto was too seductive.” (Though, John Lott did tweet that he’s been told Colabello passed four drug tests last season. TSN’s Dirk Hayhurst asserts that “for every player out there who “figures it out” and unlocks their latent potential, you’ll have one who creates latent potential through performance-enhancing substances.” The positive test, along with his .069 batting average thus far this season, seems “suspicious”, though Hayhurst admits that Turinabol is, “not the sexy, cutting-edge drug that beats the system. It’s practically steroid version 1.0. You’d have to be incredibly ballsy or incredibly stupid to put it in your system willingly.”
While some are quick to jump to conclusions on the matter, the fact is that not a single one of us can unequivocally state what the truth is one way or the other. As much as fans want to believe that their favourite players are inherently good, John Lott reminds us via Facebook that “as much as I might like him, I don’t really know Chris Colabello. And neither do the fans and the media types who are falling over themselves to defend or condemn him.” One might believe in his story of perseverance and his public persona to argue that “he seemed like the player least likely to go on the juice”, while others could use that same remarkable journeyman story to “argue someone like Colabello is a most likely suspect.” The one person who has spoken entirely in Colabello’s defense is his close friend Kevin Pillar, who insists that Colabello is, “not a person that deserves any of the labels as a cheater, as a guy trying to manipulate the system.” Instead, as Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet writes, Pillar insists that Colabello “fell victim to a technicality in the system”, and that the “drug testing policy and Major League Baseball are going to have some soul searching to do and they’re going to have to figure something out” (Though Pillar did not elaborate on what that technicality might be). Scott MacArthur quotes Pillar further as saying, “I believe him wholeheartedly that he’s a guy, especially with all of the odds he had to overcome in getting to the big leagues and leaving his mark on this game that he would ever jeopardize it by doing anything like that. We know Chris as a baseball player but maybe the media doesn’t know Chris as a human being…he took the journey less travelled to get here and he’s a guy that would never jeopardize that by doing anything.”
What it depends on, MacArthur says, is, “who you believe. If you take Colabello’s story at face value you do so for the reasons Pillar listed. Those reasons could also be used for those who would indict Colabello.”
As passionate baseball fans, is that not why we become so ensconced in every minutia of our team? Is that not why, for us, sports is far more than just a form of entertainment – that it gives us something to believe in? We believe that “our guy” is safe on a close play, we believe “our offense” will mount a late-inning rally when down by a few runs, we believe that we are all connected by our mutual belief in “our team”. We believe in the underdog because it mirrors the best in all of us.
I do not know the truth with regards to Chris Colabello. I will not speculate as to the truth.
But, I want to believe.
Lead Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports