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Some people think it’s ridiculous to root for a baseball team so rich that it could pick up Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million contract. But the New York Yankees are more than just a bunch of Goliaths with the biggest payroll in baseball. They also can boast one of baseball’s great underdogs: Colter Bean. Up until just a few days ago, Bean was a baby-faced, overweight, minor-league player. But Bean is also one of the reasons I love baseball. In his four seasons pitching for the Columbus (Ohio) Clippers, which was until this year the Yankees’ top farm club, Bean broke the team’s 100-year-old record for the most appearances. The 30-year-old also strikes out more than one batter an inning — a remarkable feat for any pitcher. And yet while he’s been doing all this, he’s been brought up for only a handful of Major League games. HOME RUN GUN A little background: I’ve always been a Yankees fan, thanks to my Queens-born father who spent a great deal of his childhood huddled next to his special Yankees radio, clutching his “home run gun,” a toy gun that he believed could cause Mickey Mantle to crash a homer. To this day he’s sure that if he could find it, the home run gun would make the Mick spring from the grave and belt a 500-footer. But unlike my father, I’ve never lived in New York. I grew up here in Washington. So as long as I’ve followed baseball, I’ve had to put up with jealous comments from people whose teams have somewhat fewer than the Yankees’ 26 world championships. The Yankees teams of my childhood had great pitching, but some years ago the Yankees decided to start spending around $50 million more than any other team for players. But for some reason, their spending on pitching didn’t seem to be well-spent — or their top pitchers ended up with injuries. Like any good fan who feels that the Yankees management is waiting for my brilliant advice, I began to scour the rosters of the minor leagues for good arms. That’s when I found Colter Bean. I fell in love with his story — the perennially stellar minor-leaguer pitcher who just can’t make it all happen. He’d played at all levels of the minor leagues for years after completing his degree at Auburn University in Alabama, where he set the school record for games pitched. Since I figured Joe Torre, the Yankees’ manager, wouldn’t take my calls, I created FreeColterBean.com. I call it “the only Web site devoted to bringing Colter Bean to the majors.” We “Beaners,” Bean’s loyal fans, are a diverse group, ranging from his childhood friends to one University of Cambridge lecturer. I’m amazed by the number of e-mails I get — especially since the only place on the Web site with my e-mail address happens to be directly opposite a picture of me looking like a deranged clown. (In Madison, Wis., where I go to college, we take Halloween seriously.) I started the site in April 2006 and, by May, I had received an e-mail from one of Bean’s friends with the news that Bean’s mother had discovered the Web site. Next was an e-mail from Bean himself thanking all the fans: “I can now walk away from the game a happy man knowing there are people out there that care. I appreciate everyone who writes in and is supportive,” he said. And then it happened. Maybe it had something to do with the Web site, but I doubt it. I don’t know if it was a strange coincidence or an act of desperation on the part of the Yankees, but later in May, Bean was called up to the Show. I happened to be at a friend’s house, flipping through the TV channels, when I found a Yankees-Mets game. As I watched, Torre walked up to the mound. The next thing I knew, Bean was pitching. Despite the loud protests of my Brewers-loving friends, I held on to the remote. I was finally seeing Bean pitch, and it was in one of the best rivalry games of the year, no less. As I watched, I began to understand what exactly it was that made a player with numbers as good as his remain in the minor leagues for so long. A CUP OF COFFEE At 6 feet 6 inches and somewhere near 300 pounds, Bean is, well, a presence on the mound. Despite his size, he still seems to have the face of a teenager and a sort of loose-limbed movement of someone out taking a walk. And while he may not be the biggest pitcher in baseball, he’s certainly the biggest one whose fastball tops out in the mid-80s. Not only is he a big man, but Colter Bean has what might be called an unusual pitching style. He drops his right arm down just as he flings it out to the side until he looks like he’s trying to throw the ball past the back of a right-handed batter. He seems to move so far off the mound that the ball actually starts off behind the hitter and then sidles toward the plate. The whole thing has an oddly gentle rhythm to it. Then, instead of aiming in toward the plate, his arm whips around his side like he’s trying to give some sort of gigantic, one-armed hug. The problem with this whole production is that sometimes it just doesn’t work. Bean plunks a fair number of batters. At the same time, this kind of motion makes it very difficult for a right-handed batter to get a good look as the ball is sailing toward him. For his Major League debut, Bean did not get off to a great start. After striking out one and walking one in his first inning of relief, Bean started off the next inning by walking a batter. He looked like he couldn’t find the plate with two hands and a flashlight. Then Torre did something I’ve never seen done before — he pulled Bean out in the middle of the next player’s at-bat. Although I had renamed my Web site, “The only Web site that could claim credit for bringing Colter Bean to the Majors,” I barely had time to bask in the glory before Bean was back in Ohio. I changed the tag line on the Web site to “The only Web site devoted to bringing Colter Bean BACK to the Majors.” After he got sent back down, he actually started to get some serious attention. The Birmingham (Ala.) News ran a story on him and another player perennially stuck in the minors. FreeColterBean.com got even more coverage in the story than Bean did himself. Next, The New York Times came calling for a comment. I became the expert on all things Colter Bean. This year during spring training, Bean again tried to make the Yankees. But when the final cuts were made to determine who stayed up in the majors for the regular season, Bean was again left out. These days, some of Bean’s teammates have taken to calling him Bumpus, after Bumpus Jones, the Clippers pitcher who set the appearance record that Bean eventually broke. Jones earned himself an odd place in baseball history when in his first Major League start he threw a no-hitter. No other pitcher has done that in his first start. Yet within a few years, Jones was out of baseball altogether. In the film “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s character asks Moonlight Graham, a baseball player who only played in one game and never had a chance to bat, what it was like to get so close to your dream but not make it. Graham responds that it wasn’t a tragedy, that the tragedy would have been missing out on the rest of his life. The other day, the Yankees called up Bean one more time. He pitched two solid innings in an otherwise pathetic loss to the Red Sox in Fenway Park. Unlike the other relievers, Bean gave up no runs. He’s so close once again. I wonder how long he’ll hang in there this time.
Daniel Davis, the son of Special Reports Editor Debra Bruno, is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is following the Yankees from afar at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia.

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