SO THIS IS 40: COLÓN LEADS BY EXAMPLE AND WITH A GOOD DOSE OF HUMOR
Has there ever been anyone quite like Bartolo Colón? He’s a burly, bear of a man who refuses to give into hitters and refuses to grow up. Don’t look now, but at the tender age of 40, the Round Mound of Renown is 6-2 with a 3.33 ERA, ranked among the American League’s Top 10 in several pitching categories and forcing his way into the conversation for 2013 All-Star consideration.
And the way he goes about it is almost comical. Nothing seems to faze him. Earlier this season, a steady rain pelted the diamond at Fenway Park in Boston. While the Red Sox pitchers asked for help in reshaping the wet mound almost on an inning by inning basis, Colón waved off the home plate umpire every time he came out to ask him if he needed any assistance from the grounds crew. Rain or shine, the Human Strike Machine never misses a beat. With only Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez with more career wins among Dominican pitching legends, Colón has seen it all during his 16 years in the big leagues. He might be one of the most unique team leaders I have ever encountered.
His English is quite limited, but that does not limit Bartolo’s ability to connect with his A’s teammates. Every day he enters the clubhouse, it’s like a kid in the proverbial candy store. As far as Bartolo Colón concerned, every day in a baseball uniform is a day in heaven. He arrives with a big smile and leaves with an even bigger one. In between, he has a profound influence on our entire roster. Here’s what you learn when you observe him on a daily basis:
- He’s a real pro with a great work ethic. With shades of a 40-something Nolan Ryan, Colón religiously rides the stationary bike to maintain the most important aspect of his pitching—his legs. Then he’s one of the first pitchers to hit the field for stretching, long toss and running. Despite his advanced age and nearly 2,500 innings inside that right arm, it’s rare to see him in the training room. And whether he wins or loses a start, he only has one expression: a wide smile that suggests life is going to be okay and the sun will, indeed, rise tomorrow. A good lesson for the Ryan Cooks and Nate Freimans to learn.
- He’s one of baseball’s true characters. Almost goofy at times, the big right-hander makes it perfectly clear to everyone that baseball should be fun. Like a grade-school kid, he’s been known to sneak up from behind teammates—heck, even the PR director—and tap them on the opposite shoulder while he walks away as an innocent man. And of course, there’s the oversized and heavy red ball he constantly throws into his glove in the clubhouse and at his locker. What it does for him, I don’t know, but he slams it with a particular gusto that tends to catch your attention. Before he made mincemeat of the White Sox Saturday, I asked Sean Doolittle before the game where Bartolo was. “The usual—he’s bouncing that ball off the wall at his locker,” Doolittle said with a grin. And of course, as some of you might have read, Bob Melvin went to the mound in Texas in the late innings recently, wondering how much Bartolo still had in the tank. He asked him, “How are you feeling?” Colón’s response: “How are you doing?”
- He’s a kind, humble person. There’s humility about Bartolo that’s truly engaging. You learn real quick that it’s never about him. He deflects any praise, whether from the media or his teammates. Even though he’s won a Cy Young Award and 177 games in his career, he’s the furthest thing from a prima donna. Maybe it’s because he grew up in a very modest home in Altamira, D.R., where there was reportedly no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. Now, without any fanfare, he donated $50,000 to the American Red Cross to help hurricane victims in Louisiana and Mississippi, and has provided funding for an amateur baseball stadium in his hometown of Altamira.
And through it all, Bartolo remains a big kid, tossing his glove up in the air after retiring the side, then snatching before it falls to the ground. So this is 40. Or at least 40 for Bartolo Colón, the man that Derek Jeter once called “one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.” The scene that will be indelibly etched in my mind forever happened just Saturday. Here was Colon, the ancient Athletic, walking up the ramp from the field after pitching a six-hit shutout in what amounted to a clinic that lasted only two hours and 14 minutes. If there was any doubt how much his teammates love and respect him, all you had to do is watch the reception he received when he entered the clubhouse. Every player, from Josh Donaldson to Josh Reddick to Grant Balfour, stood at their lockers and gave the Round Mound of Renown a standing ovation that lasted for at least 60 seconds. There is no higher praise.