A major league homecoming

Here’s a story I wrote for The Issaquah Press’ July 14 edition about an Issaquah High School graduate who now plays for the New York Yankees. I got the rare opportunity to interview him from the visitor’s dugout at Safeco Field before a game. Check it out here, or read it below!

Fifteen years ago, had Colin Curtis known he would someday become a major league outfielder, he would have said, “perfect, my plan is going to work.” At least that is what Curtis, now 25, said with a laugh when asked what his reaction would have been.

“It’s what I dreamed of doing when I was 10,” he said.

The 2003 Issaquah High School graduate was called up from the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees to the New York Yankees on June 21, and he has become a pinch hitter and an occasional starter for the major league team.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” he said about reaching the majors, adding that playing for so many years and finally reaching his goal of making it to the major leagues gives him a great sense of accomplishment.

“To finally reach it really means a lot,” he said.

Curtis, who underwent surgery for testicular cancer during his freshman year of high school, played three years of college baseball at Arizona State University before being drafted by the New York Yankees in the fourth round of the 2006 draft. He then began working his way up the minor league ladder.

He got the call from the New York Yankees June 20, and he was on a plane to Arizona the next morning. He made his first major league appearance as a pinch hitter against the Arizona Diamondbacks just hours after landing.

“It was kind of a rush, packing stuff, then getting on a plane the next morning and then playing in a game that night,” Curtis said. “I just packed my bags and went.”

Although he failed to get a hit in his first at bat, he returned the following night as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning and smashed a two-run double for his first major league hit, helping the Yankees win 9-3 over the Diamondbacks.

After his hit, the umpire halted play, gave Curtis the ball and told him he only had 2,999 more to go, referring to the 3,000-hit milestone baseball players try to achieve.

Curtis is now staying in Manhattan, and he has played in games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics.

His first game against the Mariners was at Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees came to Seattle for a series from July 8-11.

Curtis started July 9 and 10 in right field, and went 1-4 July 9 with a double and 0-4 July 10. In the 12 games he has appeared in, he has racked up 25 at bats, one run, 4 RBIs and five hits. He is hitting .200, and three of his five hits were doubles.

“Coming back here and playing in Seattle where I grew up is an absolute thrill,” Curtis said before the game July 8. He had flown in with the team from Oakland the night before, and he took teammate Kevin Russo — who was also recently called up from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre — out to lunch that day and showed him around the city, since Russo had never been to Seattle.

Curtis’ friends and family were on hand for the entire series. However, his father Jed, mother Janet and older brother Conor may be his three biggest fans, as they traveled to Arizona on short notice to watch the entire series. They then followed the team to Los Angeles.

“It was exciting for us,” Jed Curtis said. “It’s been a long time in coming, from Little League to high school to Arizona State and the minors.”

He said seeing his son on the field reminded him of Little League games from long ago.

“It brought back a lot of memories from those games at Tibbetts Field,” Jed Curtis said.

Issaquah High baseball coach Rob Reese also flew to Los Angeles to see Colin Curtis play. Reese, who coaches the Lakeside Recovery Senior American Legion team in the summer, was in San Diego for a tournament when Curtis and the Yankees came to L.A. Curtis is the first Issaquah player for Reese to reach the majors.

“It’s incredible when one of your old players plays in the big leagues,” Reese said, adding he watched on TV as Curtis got his first hit, and got to meet and congratulate him after the game in L.A.

Issaquah High assistant coach Steve Sanelli, who coached Curtis in high school and on a Little League all-star team, said he has been watching and listening to Curtis’ games on TV and the radio as if Curtis were his own son.

“It’s a thrill for me just watching him play,” he said. “It’s a huge thrill just knowing him. Hopefully, his success will continue and he’ll keep playing.”

He said Curtis never changed his style from Little League onward — he chases down balls, swings his bat and smiles the same way he did when he was young.

At a recent tournament, Sanelli spoke with baseball scouts who said they thought Curtis would have been called up to the majors two years ago had he not been with an organization as dominating as the Yankees.

“It’s hard to break in when they have multimillion-dollar guys in the outfield,” Sanelli said.

Curtis said playing for the Yankees has been quite a ride, and he has enjoyed traveling with the team.

“It’s exciting to see all the different cities and playing in different environments.”

He said one of the toughest pitchers he has faced so far was Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, who he faced off against in New York on June 30. However, he said all pitchers in the league present a significant challenge.

“Everyone you face is going to have good stuff out there,” Curtis said. “That’s why they’re in the big leagues.”

He comes back to Issaquah during the holidays, and he stayed in town for the all-star break, July 12-15.

He said his favorite baseball players of all time are Ken Griffey Jr., Kirby Puckett and Roger Maris.

Could Curtis ever play for the Seattle Mariners? Who knows. However, he said he’s happy where he is.

“I’m in such a great situation right now,” he said. “I love playing for the Yankees, and it’s such a great organization.”

To all of the young players, he says to always keep playing and chasing their dreams.

“I’d say never give up on your goals,” Curtis said. “Even when you’re in a rough patch, just keep playing hard. If you love it, eventually things will work out. Just keep going after it.”

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