Donatello making one more pitch to extend his baseball career
The end of Sean Donatello's long and winding baseball journey is approaching.
As a 27-year-old independent league relief pitcher, Donatello knows the cold reality of his situation.
Donatello is prepared for life after baseball but not without first giving it one more shot playing this summer for the Quebec Capitales of the Cam-Am League.
This is where he's making his last pitch to keep his dream alive.
"I've invested a lot of time, effort and energy into my baseball career over the last almost 10 years," said Donatello, an East Lyme High School graduate and former UConn Avery Point standout. "The hope was to play independent baseball and work my way back into affiliated baseball. That still is the goal. Whether it is going to happen or not, I'm not sure."
Since being drafted in the 25th round by the Florida Marlins in 2011, Donatello has bounced around the minor leagues, appearing in 229 games over seven seasons. He's experienced the highs and lows of professional baseball life.
He briefly reached Class AAA with the Detroit Tigers organization last year, pitching in three games for Toledo before being sent back to Class AA Erie, where he finished with a respectable 4-3 record with a 3.45 earned run average with six saves in 42 appearances.
Detroit granted his request for release the last week of the season so he could seek out other opportunities as a minor league free agent.
Donatello, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound righthander, spent the offseason hoping to hook on with another major league organization, but that never happen.
"It was a really slow winter," he said. "The phone didn't ring and I didn't get a job."
Through his agent's connections, Donatello landed in the Can-Am League with Quebec. He's pitched well, earning the league's pitcher of the week honors after throwing six shutouts innings last week. Overall, he's appeared in 21 games out of the bullpen, going 1-2 with a 3.08 earned run average. He's allowed 24 hits while striking out 30 and walking six in 23.1 innings.
The quality of independent league competition can be a little spotty. Former minor and major leaguers as well as undrafted ex-college players fill the rosters.
Donatello is one of the oldest players on his team, a role that he embraces. He offers advice to younger pitchers and feels like one of the bullpen coaches at times.
"I'm more than happy to let them pick my brain," Donatello said. "I've been really fortunate in my past and the coaches that I've had along the way, starting with coach (Roger) Bidwell and Jeff Clark at Avery Point. I'm just passionate about the game, so when I see younger guys that share that passion, that work ethic, that drive and they want to learn, it pumps me up. I feel like it's my obligation to help them out and pass on what I've been fortunate enough to learn."
During his baseball career, Donatello has gained an education both on and off the field.
He is loving life in the Quebec City area, living in a condominium near a ski resort and playing in front of enthusiastic crowds.
"It's been interesting," Donatello said. "It's a beautiful city. There's a lot of history and old architecture. It's an incredible place just as a life experience goes. The native language is French. It's been a pretty unbelievable experience. The team has a lot of support in the city. And then just beyond the game, it's been fun to explore."
Interesting also would describe playing for about a month in Venezuela in 2016.
It was a different, more aggressive, intense brand of baseball. Starting pitchers rarely lasted past five innings. What little Donatello saw of the country in his short stay was eye-opening.
"It was a really humbling experience just from a life standpoint to see the really tough economic situation that they're in down there," Donatello said. "It's really sad. They're at a pretty low point, and it's too bad. So I went down for a month. It was kind of getting to be a little rocky situation. So Detroit asked me to come home. That was my priority, so I gladly did it."
Time is running out for Donatello to extend his career. The Can-Am League regular season ends in September.
He's already put his backup plan into motion, attending the University of Hartford this fall. With his birthday on Aug. 24, he'll return to school as a 28-year-old junior. He's thinking about eventually getting into the coaching profession.
If his playing career does end soon, Donatello will be at peace with it but will miss the game.
"It's always going to be bittersweet," he said. "I've given it everything that I have, so I'm going to be able to go to sleep at night knowing that I gave 110 percent. But, at the same time, I can't imagine the day where I'm going to be done playing. It's going to be tough, no matter what, because I love the game and I know I'm going to miss the game.
"But there's a little bit of peace of mind knowing I got to play the game for a lot longer and I made it a lot farther than most guys do. So I consider myself blessed for every opportunity that I had. It's taken me all over the world. I've made some life-long friendships out of it and met some amazing people, seen some amazing places. It's all a blessing.
"I did make it pretty close to the major leagues. That is the goal, that's always been the goal and still is the goal. If I don't make it, it doesn't mean it was all for nothing. I still gained a lot from it. It's made me a better person."