The right-handed reliever started the season as a substitute teacher in Kentucky before getting a tryout, minor-league deal and going from Class A to a call-up by the Mariners.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — As a substitute teacher, Steve Delabar had to learn to adjust on the fly.
But this latest adjustment to his topsy-turvy life as a baseball relief pitcher left even the seen-it-all Delabar speechless and teary-eyed. Delabar dressed in a major-league clubhouse for the first time before Tuesday night’s game, having been promoted 24 hours earlier by the Mariners just months after working as a high-school baseball coach and substitute teacher in Kentucky.
“As a sub, you just go in, pick up the lesson plans and just go with it,” Delabar, 28, said of his teaching. “Some days, I’m a second-grade teacher. Other days, I’m 10th-grade biology.”
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Much of the teaching was at John Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, Ky., where his wife also taught. When he wasn’t in the classroom, Delabar spent most of the past two years helping coach the school’s baseball team.
He would devise off-field workouts for the players. They listened intently, knowing how Delabar had been a Class A prospect with the Padres for five years before flaming out, then snapping his elbow bone while pitching in the independent leagues in 2009.
“He was like a big kid that had great workout habits,” said Adam Lindsey, head coach of the school’s baseball team at the time. “He would take kids to work out with him three or four times a week in the winter. Having a guy around with the kind of knowledge he brought was just tremendous.”
Delabar spent 2010 coaching, teaching and taking classes toward a teaching degree at the University of Louisville. He had a steel plate in his arm to support his wired-together elbow and had given up on baseball.
It wasn’t until looking into a proposed “velocity improvement program” for his pitchers last November that Delabar accidentally revived his baseball dream. The owner of The Players’ Dugout, a private indoor baseball facility Delabar worked at, wanted to import the program from a Maryland baseball coach.
Delabar insisted he try it first so he’d know what to tell his players about it.
As he followed the program through the winter, Delabar started throwing in the mid-90s again. A friend called M’s scout Brian Williams, who watched Delabar throw to his high-school team’s catcher.
On April Fools’ Day, Delabar left with the John Hardin team for a 7 ½ — hour school bus ride to a tournament in Alabama.
“The whole ride there, he was back and forth on the phone with the Mariners scout,” Lindsey said. “They were setting the whole thing up.”
Delabar soon had another tryout with the Mariners, was signed to a minor-league deal, then sent to Arizona for extended spring training. He was promoted to Class A, then AA, then added to the AAA Tacoma roster last month.
“When you think about it, he was riding a school bus with us on April 1,” Lindsey said. “Now, he doesn’t have to ride a school bus. He can buy it.”
The Mariners are intrigued by the rapid progress shown by Delabar, especially his 0.69 earned-run average in 10 relief outings for Tacoma, where he struck out 18 batters in 13 innings. Delabar had no idea the Mariners were even contemplating a call-up and got choked up on the phone telling his wife.
“I couldn’t talk,” he said. “I called my dad and I couldn’t even put a sentence together.”
He doesn’t have to now. His rebuilt arm has done the talking for him.