There's a lot I love about baseball: the drama and tension of each battle, the power and rewards of statistics and the promise of raw, youthful talent. But, most fascinating are the individual stories. Some are destined for greatness, some take time to reach their potential and others overcome nearly insurmountable obstacles to make the big leagues. If you can dream up a scenario, it's probably resulted in a major league player. This is obviously inspiring and it adds a feeling of wonder to each at-bat.
The Twins called up Caleb Thielbar early this afternoon; his story is as worthy of recount as any other in the professional circuit.
Thielbar was born in 1987 in Northfield, Minnesota; a town boasting a population of about 20,000 people and known for having two small liberal arts colleges and a cereal factory. The town is not, in fact, known for producing ballplayers: Thielbar is the first professional baseballer from his high school.
Against some odds, I suppose, he was able to secure a spot on the South Dakota State team. In three seasons, the lefty produced a 5.76 ERA in the Summit League. The Milwaukee Brewers still saw worth the small investment to nab Thielbar in the 18th round of the 2009 MLB entry draft. You might pick up on an interesting thread here, as I'll note that SDSU hadn't produced a major league since Vean Gregg who was signed 1909. Side note, what kind of name is Vean?
After draft day, the Brewers failed to show a ton of faith in Caleb. He spent the second half of 2009 and the first half of 2010 producing quite well in Rookie ball. However, when he was called up to A-ball in mid-2010 and seemingly struggled, (5.60 ERA in 30 relief appearances) the Brewers had seen enough to cut him. Looking back, the decision is easy to question as he posted a 3.07 K/BB ratio and being a lefty makes him intrinsically valuable.
Nevertheless, Thielbar was left with the St. Paul Saints as his best option. He played in for his hometown Indy ball team for the entirety of the league's season, becoming one of their top relievers.
After the Saints season came to a close, the Minnesota Twins came knocking to give him a one-week audition. Thielbar seized the opportunity, hurling 7.1 innings of walkless and nearly hitless (one hit allowed) baseball. The performance earned him another audition in spring training, which landed him with the Twins' Hi-A affiliate to begin the 2012 season.
Over the next 17 months, Caleb has dominated his way up the minors and earned a promotion back into his home state. But, this time, I think he's grateful to be in Minneapolis rather than St. Paul.
It's journey's like these that keep baseball interesting. The possibility that Caleb Thielbar could be facing Prince Fielder this weekend is incredibly special and I'll leave it at that.
(Side note: Pedro Hernandez' demotion led to Caleb's promotion; the transaction has resulted in an open spot in the rotation. Kyle Gibson and PJ Walters are the most likely candidates to replace him.)