MOUNT PLEASANT - Josh Collmenter has spent most of the past decade shattering the expectations placed on his baseball career.
He played his high school ball at tiny Homer High School. As a senior, Collmenter led the Trojans to a 38-0 record and the first undefeated state championship season in Michigan history. The all-state honoree was the winning pitcher in the state title game.
He was a late addition to Central Michigan's 2005 recruiting class, but went on to become the school's all-time strikeouts leader and was named Mid-American Conference Pitcher of the Year as a junior in 2007.
Collmenter slipped to the 15th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft, where he was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Collmenter spent nearly five seasons in the minor leagues, befuddling opposing hitters with his simple two-pitch repertoire, below-average fastball and unorthodox over-the-top delivery. The idea of Collmenter having sustained success in the major leagues seemed remote—until he made one of the more remarkable debuts in the history of Major League Baseball.
Collmenter became the 14th former Chippewa to make the majors when he was called up by the Diamondbacks on April 15. The 25-year-old rookie made his debut the following day, retiring all six hitters he faced and earning the win in Arizona's 6-5, 12-inning victory over the 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Collmenter's first seven appearances were out of the bullpen, a role in which he was nearly unhittable; he surrendered just four runs on eight hits over 14 innings, posting an ERA of just 1.29 and limiting opposing hitters to a .170 batting average.
He made his first career start May 14 at Dodger Stadium, earning the win after shutting the Dodgers out on two hits over six innings, and the first two months of his big league career were nothing short of historic. According to the Elias Sports Bureau:
- Collmenter is the only pitcher to allow four earned runs on 20 hits over his first six career starts since the National League began recording earned runs in 1912 and the American League in 1919.
- Collmenter is only the second pitcher since 1900 to win his first two major league starts while pitching at least six shutout innings and allowing no more than two hits.
"He's done a great job. We couldn't ask for more. Hopefully he'll keep it going," said Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson. "As you profile players, you read reports, and he wouldn't profile as the type of guy you would think would pitch that effectively. But, there is a character note on all those player reports, and he just seems to handle situations very well."
Collmenter's baseball life came full circle in late June when his Diamondbacks visited Detroit for a three-game interleague series with the Tigers.
Just hours before the series opener, Collmenter traveled back to Homer for "Josh Collmenter Day" in his hometown. Twenty-four hours later, he stood atop the pitching mound at Comerica Park, pitching opposite the ace of the team he idolized as a youngster and in front of a sold-out crowd of more than 43,000 that included several hundred of Collmenter's family, friends and fans.
"I looked around and knew where they were at," Collmenter said of the
members of the Homer contingent, many of whom wore Homer-orange "Josh
Collmenter Fan" t-shirts. "I tried not to pay too much attention just
because I wanted to keep my focus on the field, but you could tell where
the groups of orange were at.
"It was exciting. Seeing all the people lining the walls of the bullpen before the game and hearing them from all angles was exciting."
Collmenter needed just 12 pitches to retire the Tigers in order in the first inning, then induced an inning-ending double play after giving up a run in the third. The game turned in the fourth, when Collmenter surrendered a first-pitch RBI double to Jhonny Peralta, then two pitches later gave up a three-run homer to Alex Avila. Collmenter retired the next three hitters, but a 4-0 deficit would be too much to overcome; Detroit's Justin Verlander struck out a career-high 14 Arizona hitters as the Tigers went on to a 6-0 win.
Regardless, Collmenter finds himself playing an integral role for a team that appears primed to make a push for the postseason, a position he could not have imagined as recently as spring training.
"I've been able to take advantage of the opportunities I was given, whether it be Double-A, Triple-A or the fall league," Collmenter said. "It's always been a goal of mine to never let an opportunity slide by."