After Close-Up View of Rehab, Sale’s College Coach Wasn’t About to Miss a Special Day at Fenway | National sports

As Chris Sale warmed up in the Fenway Park reliever pen last Saturday, Dave Tollett leaned over the railing and watched what looked like millions of butterflies float in his chest.

“I’ve coached over 1,000 games and I think this game was more nervous – and I had no control over anything – than I’ve ever been,” said Tollett, head coach baseball at Florida Gulf Coast University and coach of the University of Sale. . “Because I know the time he spent in rehab and the constant work he did. “

Few are as close to Sale and his family as Tollett, who was the only Division 1 coach to offer Sale a scholarship out of high school and who remained a close confidant throughout his career in the leagues. major.

When news broke that Sale was set to return from Operation Tommy John almost two years to the day since his last league start, Tollett immediately booked a flight to Boston and joined his family to watch him play. against the Baltimore Orioles.

“I don’t know who was more nervous, me or his dad,” Tollett said. “But after we went through the first one, we looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, he’s back, he’s fine. “”

Sale’s return was an emotional day. After the game Sale said it was an experience he will never forget, right after winning the World Series, and manager Alex Cora described it as “a special day for the organization”.

But it carried particular weight for Tollett, who considers Sale to be the most important player in Florida Gulf Coast baseball history and who has been at the forefront throughout Sale’s rehabilitation process.

Once an eagle, always an eagle

Located in Fort Myers, Florida’s Gulf Coast is a short drive from Sale’s offseason home and the Boston Spring Training Complex. Tollett said that throughout his recovery, Sale frequently walked past campus and often stopped to visit the team.

While at Florida Gulf Coast, Sale became the nation’s top varsity pitcher, earning All-American First Team and National College Baseball Player of the Year honors as a junior. He became the program’s top draft pick when he was 13th overall in the 2010 MLB Draft and spent less than two months in the minor leagues before making his major league debut with the Whites. Chicago Sox.

Since then, he has remained closely involved with the Eagles program. His number was retired by the school in 2015 and earlier this year he was inducted into the Florida Gulf Coast Hall of Fame as a member of its inaugural class.

He also recently donated $ 1 million to the school, which dedicated a huge new video board at his baseball stadium on behalf of his family in February.

“He does so much for our university in so many ways,” Tollett said. “Not many guys do that when they leave their program, but it’s not just for our baseball program, but for our entire college.”

Tollett described Sale as the fiercest competitor he has ever coached in 34 years, and in many ways that competitive nature made his recovery mentally more difficult. Not being able to help the team was constantly eating him up, and even little things like not participating in pitching training on the field during spring training took their toll.

“It seemed like every time he got to where he wanted to be there would be a little setback,” Tollett said.

“You are where your feet are”

When Sale began his rehab missions in the minor leagues, Tollett feared he was pushing himself too hard. Sale’s mantra, which Tollett said he often tells players on the Florida Gulf Coast when he comes to visit him, is “there is no break.” You don’t stop until the manager comes to pick you up, and until then you give it your all and participate in every pitch.

While this approach has served Sale well as a major league pitcher, going full blast while trying to come back from major elbow surgery could have resulted in another setback and even more time on the sidelines.

That didn’t happen, however, and beyond just enjoying a series of smooth rehab debuts, Sale was also able to create some unique memories during his first long period in the minor leagues. Tollett said Sale received a festive shower from his teammates after securing his first career double-A victory in Portland, and that he was able to pitch alongside fellow Florida Gulf Coast alum Kutter Crawford. , who is now with Triple-A Worcester.

He also enjoyed the bus ride from Sale to Scranton, Pa. For his latest debut in rehab, saying it sums up the kind of person he is perfectly.

“He always said, ‘You are where your feet are,’ and if he’s in Scranton he’s in Scranton, isn’t he? said Tollett. “It didn’t surprise me at all.

Tollett said Sale was initially slated to make his comeback in last Friday’s series opener against the Orioles and had to change his flights when they learned he was pushed back to Saturday. But once he got to the park, he was delighted to see Sale back on the mound, and even more so when Sale showed his mastery of the strike zone.

But as special as it was, nothing could compare to watching Sale speak from his heart during his post-match press conference, when he spent nearly 15 minutes thanking everyone who played a role in help him through the darkest period of his baseball career.

“He is so grateful and so grateful for everyone who followed his trip and brought him back,” Tollett said. “And it’s just Chris, he’s one of the most grateful, not just baseball players, but human beings.”

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MacCerullo.


The best sales pitch

Chris Sale made his second start back on Friday night, pitching five scoreless innings against the Texas Rangers to go 2-0. But his most significant contribution came from the field. Chris Snow, the former Boston sports reporter and now NHL executive who now battles ALS, was asked to return after throwing the first pitch at Fenway Park last week by Sale, whose grandmother also fought ALS.

“Last week he saw us on the @fenwaypark field. Last night he invited us back, ”Snow said on Twitter. “’I just wanted to meet to thank you,’ he told us. “You are literally changing the world. I just pitched. Do you mind if we take a picture? I’ll send it to my mother. She’s going to panic.

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