The astonishing Bartolo Colon started in Burlington and is still rolling along

Everything old is, well, old again. Make that older.

Sunday night I decided to tune into the ESPN Sunday night game. The defending World Series champion Houston Astros were on the schedule. They’re an interesting team. Seemed to beat watching the Oklahoma City-Utah NBA playoff game anyway.

Turned out it was.

The Astros were playing in-state rival Texas. On the mound for the Rangers was none other than Bartolo Colon, the oldest player in the Major Leagues at age 44 and among the last players with a link to Burlington’s minor league team when it was affiliated with the Cleveland Indians. The portly righthander (hey, he’s 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 285 pounds), one of the nicest players in the game, was dealing. He’s done that a lot in his long career. He has a career record of 240-176 with an ERA of 4.04. He has 2,471 career strikeouts, which puts him in 35th place all time. He just passed Mark Langston on the career strikeout list and should soon go by Jack Morris (2,478) and Don Drysdale (2,486).

Not bad company there at all.

On Sunday night he was masterful, even in a modern age of baseball where hitters put the ball in play less frequently, hit homers by the barrel and strike out more often than Reggie Jackson could ever imagine. Colon, defying all odds, took a perfect game into the eighth inning in what was by far his longest appearance of the season. Then he gave up a walk to start the eighth. With one out in the eighth he  was tagged with the first and only hit, a Josh Reddick double that tied the score at 1-1. Colon was removed from the game one out later.

It was a missed chance to make history. Colon would have become the oldest player to toss a no-hitter in Major League history. No-hit specialist Nolan Ryan had one at age 44, but Colon would have bested him by a few months. He will be 45 in May. It would also be Colon’s first big league no-hitter — something of a surprise considering he was once a power pitcher who can still summon a 90 mph fastball occasionally. His only professional no-hitter occurred on the Triple-A level with the Buffalo Bison in 1997.

According to Bleacher Report he is the oldest player to take a no-hitter into the eighth inning. That’s something I guess.

In terms of notching a big league no-hitter well, sadly, time isn’t on Colon’s side. I truly thought he might be done three years ago on another late night of baseball when he entered a World Series game for the first time in his career. He made a relief appearance for the New York Mets in the 12th inning of a 4-4 game against the Kansas City Royals. He was a long, long, long way from his days pitching for the rookie level Appalachian League Burlington Indians in 1994 when he was just a scrawny kid from the Dominican Republic. He had faced a lot more than just power hitters since then, including a suspension once for use of performance-enhancing drugs.

By 1994 I was no longer in my first stint in Burlington. I left in 1992 — about the time Manny Ramirez played for the Burlington Indians. But I still kept up with baseball here and as it turned out, Colon turned up the next season in Class A Kinston, where I was able to monitor his progress from my new home in Swansboro. In Burlington, Colon  posted a 7-4 record with a 3.14 ERA and 1.364 WHIP. Solid start for rookie league play. The next year in Kinston he was almost otherworldly with a mark of 13.3, and a 1.96 ERA. He fanned 152. He was the phenom people in Eastern North Carolina trekked to Kinston just to see.

Colon remains among the last three players still playing professional baseball who spent time with the Burlington minor league team when it was affiliated with the Cleveland Indians. but those days may be dwindling to a few. Burlington became a Royals affiliate in 2007.  Pitcher Chris Archer, now with the Tampa Bay Rays, was on the last Indians team in 2006. Archer, from Raleigh, was 10-12 last year with the rays with an ERA of 4.07. He’s off to a slow start this year with an ERA of 7.84 in four starts. His record is 1-1. Relief pitcher Edward Mujica, Burlington class of 03, has pitched for nearly every Major League team and is making his second stop in the Cardinals organization. At the moment he’s with the team’s Triple A affiliate in Memphis. And then there is the most notable former Burlington Indians player still in Major League Baseball. C.C. Sabathia, a lefthanded pitcher now with the New York Yankees is wrapping up a Hall of Fame worthy career. He started five games for the 1998 Burlington Indians, tossed 18 innings and compiled a 1-0 record. He was 17 years old.

It’s a long road from Burlington and Kinston to a World Series game and then shockingly no-hitting the current world champs for seven-plus innings in a bid to erase one of Nolan Ryan’s storied records. Still in Colon’s sights is the record for most wins by a Latino pitcher. He told my friend, Elon professor and former Burlington Royals general manager Mark Cryan he has that goal in mind. Mark says he visits Colon’s baseball academy in the Dominican Republic annually with group of Elon students. Colon needs four wins to pass the great Juan Marichal as the winningest Dominican pitcher and six to pass Dennis Martinez who is from Nicaragua. I hope he gets there. As Mark notes, “The sad part about Sunday’s game is that Colon didn’t get the win.

Texas is Colon’s 12th Major League team. He’s one short of the record there, too. Octavio Dotel has pitched for 13 teams in his career.

Colon might get him yet.

 

 

 

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