Carignan gets 'The Call' he's always dreamed about

It was the end of another game, another minor league game. So many minor league games. So many nights in Kane County, Ill., Stockton, Calif., and Midland, Tex. And this one, the night he'll never forget, the night he finally got The Call, came in the clubhouse of the Sacramento River Cats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.

Andrew Carignan, the former whiz kid at Norwich Free Academy, was awash in his typical postgame routine eating, icing, decompressing when his pitching coach, Scott Emerson, conveyed the news.

Funny, too. All those things that once felt so overwhelming the elbow injury, the foot injury, the oblique injury, the self-doubt became nothing more than a prologue for his Major League career.

Carignan was going to the majors to pitch for the Athletics.

Finally.

"I just sat there for a while," Carignan said earlier this week by phone, en route to the ballpark over the Bay Bridge. "I couldn't move. It was as emotional as I've ever been."

No one would have blamed Carignan if he cried like Marlon Brando after he yelled for Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. Oakland drafted in him 2007 and watched him rise, maybe even a future closer. And then life's persuasive (and sometimes perverse) hand interfered.

What began in the spring of 2009 when an elbow injury worsened with surgery, two oblique injuries, a foot problem and the worst development of all: Where had his stuff gone?

"Growing up," Carignan was saying, "I knew I was going to play baseball. I didn't want to do anything else. But I started to wonder if this wasn't meant to be. Maybe I would go back to school."

Finally, though, this summer, the old Andrew's arm reappeared. He really didn't have an idea the phone would ring. But at least he recognized himself again.

And then from a call into Sacramento to manager Bob Melvin's office in Oakland. He'd be a "fifth or sixth inning" reliever. No problem, Skip. Thus far, Carignan has worked three scoreless innings.

Carignan, 25, was one of the faces of perhaps the greatest run of talent in the history of Norwich baseball. It began in Little League. It ended in 2003 on the fanciful night in West Haven, when an explosion of emotions were all tied the moment that an errant throw produced in the last inning of the last game. NFA was the Class LL state champ and No. 1 team in Connecticut.

Carignan was the ace right-hander. But he was really "Drewski." That's what assistant coach Duke Campbell called him. It was such a familial group.

Gary Carignan, Andrew's dad, coached his son in Little League.

NFA coach John Iovino coached his son, Kory.

Campbell coached his son, Eric, now in the Mets organization. And they won the state title on a Saturday night, a few hours before Fathers' Day.

"We feel so strongly about these kids, like they're all our sons. My father and father-in-law, they've both passed away, knew there was something about this group," Duke Campbell said once of them. "My father watched them play at a younger age and said, 'keep this group together.' This is a special moment for Grandpa and Pop Pop - that's what we called them. We always remember them after a big win."

Carignan's newfound joy is the joy of all his old pals.

"After I realized I was going, all I thought about was my parents and my friends and where it all started," Carignan said. "I talked to I.O. (Iovino). He reminded me of my days at the NFA baseball camp. I've talked to all those guys. We're still very close."

Carignan was very proud to say that Campbell is on his way up the Mets' chain as is Zach Zaneski, who hit .281 this season in Myrtle Beach for the Class A Texas Rangers.

"Don't forget that Will (Bashelor) and Eric (Thompson) played in college," Carignan said.

Bet neither Bashelor nor Thompson fathomed they'd be part of a baseball conversation eight years later that originated on the bridge over San Francisco Bay that links Oakland and San Francisco.

But then, who'd have believed any of it? The night in 2003 when pinch-runner Mike Boucher scored the winning run, Iovino went from hands-on-the-head (much like David Cone did when he pitched the perfect game) to a classic, "palms up" gesture to Duke Campbell, as if to say, "Can you believe this?"

Just exactly how Carignan felt all these years later when The Call came.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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