After toiling 11 years in the minors before finally getting his chance to pitch in the big leagues, Mark DiFelice isn’t about to start taking things for granted. “I’ll believe I’ve made the team when I’m on the flight to San Francisco,” said DiFelice, referring to the Milwaukee Brewers’ opening series of the season. DiFelice’s reluctance is understandable. When you have 263 minor-league games on your résumé and only 15 appearances in the majors, this breaking-camp-with-the-team stuff is a bit difficult to grasp.
Calming his nerves before the biggest start of his life wasn’t all that tough for Chris Jakubauskas. After all, he’d toiled 4 ½ years in the independent leagues before somebody gave him a shot at pitching professionally. So, another few days of putting off thoughts of a possible major-league career with the Mariners didn’t seem that long to a 30-year-old living out one of those storybook dreams.
It’s tempting to turn guys like these into Cinderella stories, but my guess is that there isn’t as big a difference as we often assume between guys like DiFelice and Jakubauskas on the one hand and any number of 11th or 12th guys on a staff on the other. Like St. Crash said, “one extra flare a week, a gork, a ground ball, you get a ground ball WITH EYES, you get a dying quail. Just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.” Or in a pitcher’s case, out of Yankee Stadium.
Anyone who raises even as high as the mid-minors was once the best pitcher in his city and maybe even his state, and it’s no doubt the case that some bad luck and subtle biases prevented DiFelice and Jakubauskas from making it sooner than they have. Now that they’re up they have just as good a shot as anyone to stick and be effective. That part of me that pours a big tall scotch and watches “Bull Durham” once a year — this time of year — hopes that that’s the case.