Toronto Blue Jays: Looking Inside Steve Delabar's Incredible Comeback Story

Matthew ApplebyContributor IISeptember 7, 2012

TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 31: Steve Delabar #50 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays on August 31, 2012 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Two years ago, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Steve Delabar was completely out of baseball. Not by choice, but forced out of the game he loved. He is now 29 and is pitching at the highest level of his career.

The San Diego Padres drafted Delabar in the 29th round in 2003. He started his career in 2004 with the Arizona League Padres where he bounced around the minor leagues but never made it above single-A baseball. He was never considered a top prospect. He had been promoted, demoted, traded and cut before his career was cut short.

In 2009, Delabar suffered a fractured right elbow that required a metal plate and nine screws to be surgically placed in his arm in order to help it heal. The injury was so bad, he was forced to retire from his career as a baseball player.

With nowhere else to go, Delabar returned home and began a different line of work as a substitute teacher in Elizabethtown, Ky. He put his baseball knowledge to use and became an assistant coach at the high school he taught at.

Around this time, there was a considerable amount of research being done on why tennis players rarely injured their shoulders, but pitchers frequently did when the motion of serving and pitching was almost identical. The answer lies in the fact that tennis players hold on to the racquet throughout the motion, whereas pitchers release the ball.

By not releasing, the muscles on the back of the shoulder get much stronger, allowing for a much more stable and less injury-prone shoulder.

Enter Joe Newton, who runs the Players’ Dugout in Elizabethtown. Newton brought a new training plan to the pitchers at the school that Delabar helped coach. What started as a preventative injury program, was giving pitchers unparalleled gains in their velocity. The pitcher’s shoulders were stronger and their velocity was increasing.

Conventional training methods had pitchers throw various weighted balls both from their knees and standing positions in an effort to rehab elbows and shoulders. By using this method but not releasing the ball, Delabar found he was able to regain his velocity back to where it was when he was drafted.

He didn’t stop there.

He started to track his progress with radar guns. He first clocked himself at 89 mph. It was good, but not good enough. He kept training and was able to consistently hit 93 mph.

That’s when he knew there was a chance at a comeback. His arm felt great, and the results he was able to produce were MLB quality pitches.

After a few tryouts for Seattle Mariners’ scouts, they signed Delabar to a minor league deal and he reported to single-A spring training. From there, he was promoted to AA for the first time in his life. After a few productive months, he was on to AAA, and after 10 outings in AAA, he got a call to the big leagues.

On September 11, 2011, a 28-year-old who had never played above single-A before that season, who had nine screws in his arm and who had already retired from baseball once, made his MLB debut.

He was traded to the Blue Jays for Eric Thames and on August 13 made MLB history. Delabar became the first MLB pitcher to record four strikeouts in an extra inning against the Chicago White Sox.

It was a wild, two-year ride for Delabar that started with an extensive surgery on his elbow. He was forced out of his passion, forced into a different career and just three years later, he was able to make MLB history. Quite the impressive comeback. 


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