One of the beautiful things about baseball is how well it lends itself to a certain level of romanticism. There’s an otherworldly feel to a baseball story. It’s easy to look at the story as presented, and think “well, this is clearly being written to be more fantastical than it really is” – and then find yourself digging into the details and finding that the truth is often stranger than what was presented; almost as if the author couldn’t believe what they were writing about in the first place and had to edit out some of the stranger things.
And so we come to a typical August afternoon in Phoenix, Arizona. The temperature is somewhere between “very hot” and “the pavement is melting”. The visiting Colorado Rockies have plated two runs in the top of the first against Mike Leake, and fans are about to get their first look at a guy who really doesn’t seem like he belongs. Baseball is a sport that’s kinder to larger gentlemen than most, but at 6’4″ and 225lbs, Tim Melville looks like a misfit on the mound. He’s 30 years old, but you’d swear the babyfaced righty was fresh out of college. He’s only just gone through his warmups, and he’s already covered in a thin veneer of sweat. It’s not just a physical mismatch, either. Wednesday 21 August 2019 is the first time he’s taken to a big league mound in nearly two years. Statistically, you wouldn’t want him anywhere near your team. Throughout 2016 and 2017 he appeared in nine games and posted double-digit ERAs. He’s never recorded a win in the majors. Yet a struggling Colorado franchise (57-69 at this stage in a season that’s not mathematically done but would require a miracle to even see a winning record) are pinning their hopes on a guy who started 2019 interning in a BBQ restaurant in Arizona.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Tim Melville began 2019 without a team. As a resident of the Phoenix area, he spent his winter working at Little Miss BBQ. Where most players would spend their offseason working out, practising or even just playing another sport to keep active, Melville decided that he would rather serve brisket than fastballs. When the season started, he eventually found a start with the Long Island Ducks, an independent Atlantic League team. The Colorado Rockies purchased his contract and assigned him to Triple-A Albuquerque, where he posted a 10-5 win-loss record in 18 starts, and a 5.42 ERA – not a great number, but also not disastrous considering the sheer power of the offences playing in the Pacific Coast League at the time. Everyone was getting roughed up out there, so that number comes with an asterisk beside it. And so a team plagued by injuries that exposed a severe lack of depth at almost every position called Melville over from the Isotopes’ Sacramento road trip to start in the middle of a scorching Arizona summer.
At this stage, you may be wondering how he fared. But I’d argue that the results of his outing are secondary to the story. A win or a loss didn’t really matter to the Rockies, outside of the pride of beating a divisional rival and playing spoiler against a team trying to make the playoffs. Simply seeing this lumbering, sweaty presence on the mound was enough of a feel-good piece in and of itself. But when his first pitch was popped up to Trevor Story at short for an easy out, Rockies fans got a little extra to smile about. He would eventually put seven innings in the books on 101 pitches – 65 for strikes – and allow only one run on two hits, two walks and four strikeouts.
Tim Melville finally had his first career major league win.
A week later he followed it up with a quiet five innings as the Rockies hosted the Braves. Although he would not receive a decision by the scorers, he allowed five hits and no runs, with six strikeouts, as Colorado finished with a 3-1 victory. His second win decision would come on 6 September in San Diego, snapping a nine-game skid (in which he also recorded a loss against Pittsburgh).
And so as Spring Training lumbers ever closer, Melville finds himself once again on a minor league contract. Of course, he’s an invitee to the spring training roster and will be competing for a starting job. The odds are against him – but even if he doesn’t make it, we can still look back at the summer of ’19, when Rockies fans were given something to cheer about in the midst of one of the worst seasons in franchise history. But if you talk to anyone who’s a fan of the sport about Tim, you’re more likely than not to be greeted with a questioning “who?”
For as fantastical as the tale of a journeyman who couldn’t quite make it in the majors and spent his time interning at a BBQ joint before getting one more chance at his dream career is, it’s just another week in the world of baseball. This sport churns out far stranger stories on an alarmingly regular basis. There’s no sport quite like it.
Chris Finlay is one of the new writers contributing at Bat Flips and Nerds. You can enjoy his perceptive takes on the Rockies throughout the season as he joins our team for 2020. Follow him on Twitter @chrisjfinlay