In case you’re still not familiar with his story, the 6-foot-6 pitcher quit the game in 2004 after being suspended for a second failed test for marijuana. He traveled the world and became a bartender, and generally gave up on his childhood dream.
But he eventually decided to get back into the sport, and spent last season in the Seattle Mariners system, topping out a mid-level Class-A ball.
Today the word came down: Seven years after quitting baseball, Wilhelmsen was going to the major leagues, landing a spot in the Mariners bullpen. The Mariners coaches admired the 27-year-old’s poise on the mound, and his 97-mph fastball didn’t hurt, either.
Geoff Baker has a nice story on Wilhelmsen’s big moment over at the Seattle Times, including an emotional interview with Wilhelmsen’s father, John.
“I’m so relieved as a father, because I didn’t want him to be 35 and saying, ‘I shoulda,’ ” his father said. “I didn’t want him to live his life like that. I wanted him to know for himself that, whatever happened, he gave it 100 percent. After that, whatever happens, happens.”
Wilhelmsen made it to the majors, but what about the other players I featured this spring? Let’s take a look:
- Scott Rice, reliever, Cubs: Optioned to minor league camp on March 15.
- John Lindsey, first base, Dodgers: Optioned to minor league camp on March 14.
- Corky Miller, catcher, Reds: Will likely be optioned to minor leagues unless Ramon Hernandez’s elbow becomes more of a problem.
- Dustin Ackley, second base, Mariners: Optioned to minor league camp on March 23. Will likely be with Mariners at some point this season.
- Torii Hunter, outfield, Angels: Starting right fielder for Angels.
- Colby Lewis, pitcher, Rangers: No. 2 starter for the Rangers.
Hunter and Lewis are, of course, established big leaguers who shared stories of their past struggles. Ackley is a rising star who was chosen No. 2 overall in the 2009 draft. Of the others, only Wilhelmsen is likely to stick in the majors this season, and his cause was aided by playing for a team in transition that entered spring with lots of bullpen questions.
It all just illustrates how difficult it is to play this wonderful game.