Steve Delabar's elbow snapped while making a pitch for the independent Brockton Rox in 2009, requiring a steel plate and nine screws to repair the damage in surgery. Four years later, the Blue Jays right-hander has become the focal point of an all-star vote-in campaign that says as much about the influence of social media in baseball these days, as it does his remarkable comeback from the gruesome injury.
More than 33 million votes had been lodged on mlb.com as of Tuesday morning for the 34th and last roster spots on the National and American league all-star game rosters. The Blue Jays double-teamed with their 1992 World Series dance partners, the Atlanta Braves, in a Twitter campaign urging votes for their respective players, Delabar and .305-hitting first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Delabar led the five pitchers in the AL competition for the final roster spot, while Freeman had a slim lead in NL voting over the rookie sensation, .409-hitting outfielder Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Jays campaign, slugged "Raise the bar, vote Delabar" has Twitter followers urging one another to vote, the club retweeting their exhortations, Jays teammates supporting the campaign on their own accounts, and Delabar himself posting a picture of his baby daughter wearing one of the t-shirts that the Jays made up, in support of the campaign.
Among the many fan tweets:
@JoshCarreiro: I just voted for Delabar and Freeman in the MLB Final Vote. Be like me and do the same.
@mattallott: "Boss asked me what I got accomplished today, so I told him the truth, I voted a bunch of times to get @SteveDelabar_50 in ASG." ….
If all of this has traditionalists in head-spin mode while fondly recalling the days of entire all-star teams being picked exclusively by the respective managers, or even more modern times when fans used punch-out paper ballots to select the starting eight, welcome to the new world.
Social media connects athletes directly with their fans, and clubs use Twitter, facebook, instagram and their own websites to engage the digital baseball community . Columnist Rick Reilly of espn.com pointed out recently that a fan asked Chris Davis, the 33-homer/.703 -slugging first baseman of the Baltimore Orioles, the obvious question: "Are you on steroids?" And he got a direct reply: "No".
Davis, who's tied his career high for an entire season with the 33 homers before next Tuesday's all-star game, told Reilly afterwards: "I was scrolling through and happened to land on that one. It was the first time I'd really seen anybody just ask me. …"
Back to Delabar. Going into Tuesday's game at Cleveland, he'd struck out 57 in 40 innings, fashioning a 5-1 record and a 1.58 earned run average. He's been consistent, the stats reflecting last season's, only this year the world wide web has noticed. The voting ends Thursday. If he ends on top, the right-hander could appear in the all-star game two days before his 30th birthday, never having risen above Single-A ball prior to his injury.
After surgery he earned some money as a substitute teacher at Central Hardin High in Elizabethtown, Ky., playing softball for fun on Friday nights. He also began working with the Players Dugout, owned by friend Joe Newton. Delabar was going to start selling a program that Newton had brought into his instructional facility. Called the Velocity Project and devised by former college coach Jamie Evans (since hired by the Jays), the program uses weighted balls and other techniques to build arm strength and endurance. Delabar gave it a try.
Soon in workouts he was throwing his fastball at an eye-popping 96-to-98 mph. A Seattle scout convinced the club to offer a minor league contract, and in 2011 Delabar left the teaching job to start yet again in Single-A. He made the majors by the end of the season.
After he was traded from Seattle to Toronto last July, Delabar continued to excel and was impressive at spring training with the Blue Jays this year.
The Blue Jays, holding down last place in the AL East at the start of a three-game series in Cleveland on Tuesday, already have three players on the all-star team: outfielder Jose Bautista, first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion and left-hander Brett Cecil.
As for the potential fourth @AnthaV asked: "How many players on the ballot have a steel plate and 9 screws in their pitching arm? ONE!"