BY ANDREW KULYK AND PETER FERRELL
When it was announced that Chris Colabello was returning to the Buffalo Bisons back in mid July, the news offered up hope to a team that was in a tailspin and could use some power at the plate to hopefully lift the Bisons out of its losing slump.
What was not to like? Back in 2015, Colabello was pretty much dominated the offense that Manager Gary Allenson had in an April lineup that was short on hitting, short on power and pretty much absent in home runs. During that month, Colabello hit .338, hit 15 home runs and rung up 16 RBI. Thanks mostly to Colabello, the team started a hot streak with a 14-7 April record, and the International League, which named him Player of the Month, paid tribute to his efforts.
Colabello’s stint at AAA didn’t last long. A week later he was called up to the Toronto Blue Jays, and had a stellar season, appearing in 101 games, where he had a .321 average and 15 home runs with 54 RBI. Colabello played in all 10 Blue Jays postseason games and was a valuable contributor. Even at age 31, his future seemed limitless.
So what happened?
This past February, a random urine test, taken during spring training, revealed random traces of an anabolic steroid called dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT) in Colabello’s system. And just like that, Colabello’s world came crashing down around him.
Colabello insists that he has no idea how the chemical got into his system. He says he had taken, and passed, twenty drug tests in the previous four years, and took every precaution he could muster by only ingesting supplements provided to him by the Toronto Blue Jays training staff.
Baseball came down hard on Colabello, sanctioning him with an 80 game suspension. And just like that, he was banished from the game he loved, which has taken him down an unlikely path through the Italian Baseball League and the minors, before earning roster spots with the Minnesota Twins and the Toronto Blue Jays, where he immediately became a fan favorite.
Despite damning public perceptions, and overwhelming testimony offered by medical and pharmaceutical professionals who understand the product, which was last manufactured in the former East Germany in the late 80s and is only today available on the black market, Colabello maintains his innocence and says he will go out of his way to find the answers.
While under suspension, Colabello broke his silence in a wide ranging interview on the Canadian national network Rogers Sportsnet. Choking back tears, Colabello said “Until the day I figured out how this happened, I won’t rest. To think that the impact this has on your life, on your character, on your integrity as a man, those are things I would never be willing to risk. Whether or not people want to believe me or not all I know is I’m telling the truth and that’s literally the only thing that’s allowed to put my head on the pillow and sleep…I’ve taken every step in my life for this not to happen and that’s the scary part.”
With his suspension complete, the Blue Jays assigned Colabello to the single-A Dunedin Blue Jays to get his groove and timing back. On Monday, July 18, he was promoted and arrived in Buffalo to make his return in a Bisons uniform.
Against the Norfolk Tides Colabello stepped into the batters box in the bottom of the 1st inning. He promptly hit a solo home run dead into center field, the deepest part of the park.
Colabello would go 2 for 4 that night but his performance since has been unremarkable. As of this weekend Colabello is hitting .173 in a Bisons uniform. In a Bisons season that has spiraled into the abyss, Colabello’s extraordinary talents are little to be found, and even the Blue Jays look like they have no place for him. Since he is ineligible to be on the postseason roster, the Jays simply “optioned” Colabello to Buffalo in late July, removing him from their 25 man roster. Toronto is looking for an upgrade in the outfield, which would give more playing time to either Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista at first base. This in turn leaves little room for Colabello or the underperforming Justin Smoak in the day to day Toronto lineup.
On the day that Colabello arrived in Buffalo in July, he spoke with a packed media contingent, and recited the same lines of contrition, his lack of understanding how all this could have happened, and recommitted his love for baseball. “At the end of the day I just want to play. I played this game for seven years for free. I just love playing. I’m a little kid at heart I just want to play baseball.”
Colabello refuses to apologize for something he says he didn’t do. But at the time of his arrival in Buffalo, it was expected he’d play five games and move on to Toronto. Almost four weeks have passed and he is still here, and in all likelihood will end his season here with the Bisons.
At the age of 32, Colabello still believes there’s a lot of baseball in his future, and his path to redemption will come in time. But his future as a Major League player might well be shaped in what happens in these final 20 games of the regular season. With a team running for the bus and spiraling to the bottom of the division, for Colabello those prospects look grim.
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