He’s the kind of player that baseball people might call a journeyman – and he’s yet to pitch in the major leagues.
But for 29-year-old hurler Tim Gustafson, the road to the majors has been a journey all it’s own, and a journey he was happy to share with Jack McNeil in a virtual sit-down from Venezuela Tuesday night.
Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the ninth round in 2006 as a 21-year-old, Gustafson started 20 games for the Rome Braves (A) in 2007 before suffering an elbow injury which required Tommy John surgery and threatened the future of his career.
Hard work and perseverance saw him return to action in 2008 and he reached AAA Gwinett in 2010 before a move to the Cincinatti Reds organization – and the bullpen – when Reds coaches said he had potential to pitch in the major leagues.
“It was the first time since before my Tommy John that a coach had told me I could pitch in the big leagues,” Gustafson said of the move.
Gustafson spent 2011 and 2012 with the Reds AA and AAA teams before moving to the Colorado Rockies‘ system for the 2013 season, after failing to make a breakthrough in Cincinnati.
After a season pitching in AA for the Rockies, during which Tim and his wife welcomed daughter Cali to the world, Gustafson signed with the Bridgeport Bluefish, an independent team in the Atlantic League. He made 57 relief appearances and put up his best career numbers in WHIP, K/9, BB/9 and K/BB ratios. Gustafson says it was due in no small part to a change in approach.
“Some of it was mindset, some of it was stuff: not trying to do to much,” Gustafson said. “As a starter, sometimes I’ll tinker in the bullpen and then all of a sudden I’m taking things to the game which sometimes aren’t natural.”
“This year I just tried to simplify and not let things get away from me,” he said.
His efforts didn’t go unnoticed, and with the aid of new agent Josk Kusnick signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles last month. Gustafson admits he was a little surprised at how quickly his new agent landed him a deal.
“We talked the day of,” Gustafson said. “I had an email that said ‘Hey, call me, I might have you a job. I might have you a job today, so call me soon,’ an so I did.”
“I know that being almost 30-years-old and coming from independent ball, you’re not really on the top list of priorities,” Gustafson said.
Gustafson plans on making the most of this unexpected opportunity with Baltimore, as he strives to make it to the big time, with the support of friends, family, and the fans he’s earned with his hard work and remarkable story.
“I think that going into this Spring Training it’s important for me to have a one-track mind,” Gustafson said, “and do what I can to get ready.”