FORT MYERS, Fla. – Chris Colabello, a non-roster invitee with the Minnesota Twins, is probably the happiest man in baseball this spring.
It would be trite to say Colabello, 29, has come out of nowhere. He actually comes from everywhere. Colabello grew up mostly in Massachusetts but spent several years of his childhood in Italy before attending Division II Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. Then he began a seven-year career as a slugging corner infielder in the independent Canadian-American Association, with teams in Worcester and Nashua, N.H.
Colabello didn’t play his first game in affiliated minor-league baseball until last year at age 28, when the Twins signed him after Colabello’s agent, Brian Charles, sent scouting footage of him to the team. The right-handed Colabello put together a strong season at Double-A New Britain – an .836 OPS in 134 games – and helped Team Italy win the European Baseball Championship last September. He continued his power hitting for Guasave of the Mexican Pacific League during the offseason.
Now he has a locker in the Twins’ major-league clubhouse – right next to Justin Morneau’s – and will join Team Italy for the World Baseball Classic early next month.
“There’s not too many guys happier than I am right now – with everything,” a beaming Colabello said this week. “Being in big-league camp, getting to (play in the WBC).
“I signed with Detroit in ’06. They let me go right out of spring training. I had signed out of a tryout camp. I spent the next six years in indy ball. Before you knew it, the Twins came calling in 2012, and I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.
“Believe me: The smiles I have on my face all day, every day, are not fake. It’s very easy for me to come here and appreciate everything and be thankful to this organization.”
Colabello’s father, Lou, was born and raised in Massachusetts but played in Italy’s domestic baseball league for several years after college. Lou joined the Italian national team – as some Italian-Americans are permitted to do – and pitched for Team Italy against Team USA at Dodger Stadium during the 1984 Summer Olympics.
Lou Colabello met his wife, Silvana, while playing in Rimini. Although Chris was born in the U.S., the family returned to Italy when he was young so Lou could work as an executive and coach in both baseball and basketball. So, Chris played for Team Italy in the European Cup when he was 11 and 12 years.
“Talk about getting treated like royalty when you’re 11 years old,” he said. “We went to Paris one year and then the Czech Republic the next year. We won the European Cup both years. Wearing the Italian uniform is really special for me.”
-- Jon Paul Morosi