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Catonsville High graduate and Major League pitcher Adam Kolarek talks about a year to remember

Catonsville native Adam Kolarek pitches for the Los Angeles Dodgers against Juan Soto in seventh inning of game one of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium. Kolarek struck out Soto and the Dodgers won the game.
Catonsville native Adam Kolarek pitches for the Los Angeles Dodgers against Juan Soto in seventh inning of game one of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium. Kolarek struck out Soto and the Dodgers won the game.(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

A year ago, 2007 Catonsville High graduate Adam Kolarek was on his first opening day Major League Baseball roster when he made the Tampa Bay Rays 25-man squad out of spring training.

On March 29, the second day of the 2019 season, he pitched a perfect 1/3 of an inning and earned a hold in a 5-1 victory over Houston.

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Since that day, some very significant moments have happened in his baseball and his personal life.

One of them won’t be pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the team’s home opener, originally scheduled for Thursday, March 26 against rival San Francisco.

The pandemic coronavirus has postponed the baseball season indefinitely, so Kolarek was in his Anne Arundel County with his wife Melanie and 5-month old son Hank.

Earlier this week, Kolarek, 31, talked about the moments that have changed his life over the past year.

When was the last time he wasn’t playing organized baseball in the spring?

“I honestly can’t even remember,” said Kolarek, who was drafted out of the University of Maryland in the 11th round in the 2010 Major League draft by the New York Mets.

He started his career with the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2010 in the New York-Penn League and pitched for 10 total minor league teams before finally reaching the majors.

He was not expecting to spend this spring in Maryland.

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“Getting to see Baltimore in the spring and the summer is something I’m not even used to, just seeing the trees in bloom,” he said. “Usually by the time I get back, all the leaves are falling off, so it’s really nice to see everything blooming for spring.”

What was it like playing first base for a batter?

On April 7, 2019, in a 3-0 win over San Francisco, the southpaw Kolarek pitched a scoreless sixth inning and than gave up a leadoff hit in the seventh.

Tampa manager Kevin Cash came to the mound and moved Kolarek to first base while right-handed reliever Chaz Roe came in an struck out Evan Longoria.

Cash relieved Roe and Kolarek went back to the mound and faced a lefty.

“Unfortunately, as much fun as it was doing that, coming back in to face another hitter, I don’t think it’s really going to be happening anymore,” said Kolarek, citing a new rule in baseball, which requires pitchers to face at least three straight hitters, unless the inning ends.

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How will the new rule effect his role?

Kolarek will use his time away from the field to watch more video.

“Especially, with the rule changes, I’ll have to face more right-handed hitters, I like to study and take notes, more about how I pitch to them and what sequence of pitches I used, so that when I face them this year I can either stick with something or try to mix something different in,” said Kolarek, who was called up to the Major Leagues for the first time on June 28, 2017 and pitched in 12 games.

He was promoted again in 2018 and pitched in 31 games.

Adam Kolarek, right, took a trip to Dodger stadium when he was 11 years old with his young sister, KC, and dad, Frank. Twenty years later, he is pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Adam Kolarek, right, took a trip to Dodger stadium when he was 11 years old with his young sister, KC, and dad, Frank. Twenty years later, he is pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers.(Photo courtesy of Frank Kolarek)

Kolarek recalls the day he was traded from the Rays to the Dodgers

After a strong first half with the Rays, when he went 4-3 with a save and 3.95 earned run average and 1.22 WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) in 54 games, Kolarek was traded on July 31.

“I had no heads up and it was very unexpected,” Kolarek said. “We were playing at Fenway against the Red Sox and it was just a normal day, except everyone knew it was the last day for the trade deadline.”

The trade deadline is 4 p.m. Eastern Time.

“We got to the field and we were doing our normal prep for a night game and it was literally like 3:55 and most of us were in the lunch room just grabbing a bite to eat before batting practice,” he recalled. “My manager (Kevin Cash) called me over in front of everybody to go talk to him outside, and honestly your heart kind of drops because most of the time when you get pulled aside by the manager you are usually being sent down.”

Instead, Kolarek was going from a team that would eventually make the playoffs as a wild card to one that was comfortably in first place in the National League West.

“He just explained what had happened and that I was being traded and it wasn’t anything that they were pursuing themselves, but it just turned out that Los Angeles had an injury to one of their lefty relievers and they called inquiring about me and the trade ended up happening,” Kolarek said. “You digest so much so quickly because you go from preparing to play for the Rays and playing against the Red Sox that night, to being told that you are being traded.”

Tampa Bay Rays reliever Adam Kolarek pumps his fist after the final out of a win over the Chicago White Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 21, 2019, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Kolarek was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers 10 days later.
Tampa Bay Rays reliever Adam Kolarek pumps his fist after the final out of a win over the Chicago White Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 21, 2019, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Kolarek was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers 10 days later.(Steve Nesius / AP)

Telling his teammates and buddies on the Rays was tough to swallow.

“I told them I was being traded and you have to say goodbye to everybody, just instantly, there is no time to let it sink in, I just literally had to say goodbye to everybody, packed up my locker and went back to the hotel and ended up flying to L.A. the next morning,” he said.

Fortunately, his wife Melanie was with him.

“She was about six or seven months pregnant at that time,” he said. “We’ve experienced a lot together over the years and you factor everything that happened and last year was just incredible.”

Playing under the spotlight of Hollywood didn’t hurt Kolarek’s numbers at all.

As a left-handed specialist, he went on to allow only one earned run in 26 appearances that totaled 11 2/3 innings.

His earned run averaged with the Dodgers was 0.77 and in 55 innings between the two clubs he struck out 45 batters.

“Traditionally, throughout my career, I feel like I always get a little bit better as the season goes on and I don’t really have a rhyme or reason for that,” said Kolarek, who was an All-Metro first team selection as a junior and senior at Catonsville High. “I’m certainly trying just as hard at the beginning and at the end, maybe I gain a little more confidence, my pitches get a little bit sharper and I felt like I was really doing that in Tampa when the trade happened.”

Warm welcome from the Dodgers

“I think what made the transition so easy was how welcoming everyone in the Dodgers locker room was, it was very cool to go into a locker room for the first time and not be a guy who was just called up,” he said. “I was going from one team to another and obviously both the Rays and the Dodgers made the playoffs last year, but to go to a team like L.A. that was so far ahead in the division, so the playoffs were kind of a given, so I knew stepping in that clubhouse that they were excited to have me because I was going to contribute to the playoffs.”

The Dodgers were 73-39 on Aug. 1 won the division with a 106-56 record.

Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Adam Kolarek works against a Chicago White Sox batter during the third inning of a spring training baseball game Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Adam Kolarek works against a Chicago White Sox batter during the third inning of a spring training baseball game Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)(Gregory Bull/AP)

One special night at Camden Yards

Mainly used against lefties in mid to late-game situations, on Sept. 12, the Dodgers played in Baltimore and family, friends and former Dodgers manager Tomy Lasorda were in attendance hoping to see the hometown Catonsville native pitch.

Kolarek arrived on the hill earlier than expected and got out of a bases loaded two-out jam by getting D.J. Stewart to ground out for the third out of the first inning of a game the Dodgers won, 4-2.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever come in in the first inning,” said Kolarek, noting he was aware starting pitcher Rich Hill was coming back from injury and wasn’t going to pitch long. “It was one of those mental things, you knew you had to be mentally early and obviously, it was very exciting to get in at home and playing for the Dodgers.”

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His father, Frank Kolarek, who played minor league baseball in the Oakland Athletics organization from 1976 through 1979, was there beaming from his seats behind home plate.

“I got chills though my sweater, I still get chills thinking about it,” his dad said. “We knew it happened, but it’s still surreal if you are familiar with the path.”

That journey included Kolarek going 8-2 with a 1.05 earned run average during his senior year of high school.

He struck out 102 in 61 innings and led the Comets to the state semifinals, where they lost, 5-4, to Centennial.

At Catonsville High, 2007 graduate Adam Kolarek was a dominant starter, including this 14-strikeout effort in a regional championship game win over Franklin.
At Catonsville High, 2007 graduate Adam Kolarek was a dominant starter, including this 14-strikeout effort in a regional championship game win over Franklin. (File photo/2007)

Adam Kolarek meets Juan Soto in the playoffs

Fast forward 12 and a half years and Kolarek is pitching in the 2019 National League Division Series.

Standout 21-year-old outfielder Juan Soto hit five home runs and drove in 14 runs to help lead the Washington Nationals to the World Series championship and he was also the first batter Kolarek faced in the postseason.

In fact, Soto batted against Kolarek three times during the series in key situations and went 0-for-3.

The Dodgers won two of the three games.

In game one, Kolarek faced him with the Dodgers leading 2-0 and no outs in the top of the seventh. He struck him out and Los Angeles won 6-0.

In game two, Soto came up with one out and runners on first and second and the Nationals leading 3-1 in the top of the seventh and Kolarek was summoned again.

Nine pitches and five foul balls later, Soto grounded out to shortstop.

Washington evened the series at 1-1.

In game three in D.C., Kolarek fanned Soto on a 90-mile an hour sinker and the Dodgers prevailed, 10-4.

His dad was impressed, but has seen him come through in the clutch all his baseball life.

“To see him come through like that and be a pivotal person in the playoffs, it was a lot of fun after all these years, to see that opportunity present itself, we are very fortunate and very thankful that it happened,” Frank Kolarek said. “Can I say I was surprised, I don’t think I can, I’ve seen that in him and I guess everybody else had a chance to see it.”

Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Adam Kolarek works against a San Diego Padres batter during the ninth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Adam Kolarek works against a San Diego Padres batter during the ninth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)(Gregory Bull/AP)

Los Angeles lost the final two games and the series, but Kolarek will never forget his first postseason.

“It wouldn’t have mattered who I was facing, but facing anyone in the playoffs and especially experiencing the playoffs for the first time, the intensity level, the excitement you feel from the crowd alone is just at a whole other level, so for me personally, the matchup that ended up occurring often, was just so exciting,” he said. “I’m not even going to try to say that I was cool and collected the whole time, because it was just so exciting.”

Getting to sleep the night before the games being played so close to home was toughest.

“Getting to come back to the D. C. area and play in the playoffs, it was just everything you dream about,” Kolarek said. “I was pitching in the playoffs for the Dodgers, which is something I never would have thought would have ever happened, but it was so special and coming back to D.C. and to have family and friends in the area, and obviously the following the Nationals had last year was great for baseball in general, particularly the D.C. area.”

Catonsville's Adam Kolarek, second from right, celebrates with Mike Bloomer, right, and Jeremy Mannone, far left, after the Comets' 9-4 win over Franklin in the 2007 Class 3A North Region championship game.
Catonsville's Adam Kolarek, second from right, celebrates with Mike Bloomer, right, and Jeremy Mannone, far left, after the Comets' 9-4 win over Franklin in the 2007 Class 3A North Region championship game.(File photo)

Baby Hank arrives during the World Series

The Nationals swept St. Louis in four games in the League Championship Series and defeated Houston in seven games in the World Series.

On Sunday, Oct. 27, the day of game five of the World Series, Adam Kolarek’s first child, Hank, was born and he was there.

When the Dodgers were eliminated, so was the possibility the baby would be born while he was still pitching in the postseason.

“We were prepared for whatever phone call needed to happen to get me on the first flight to be with her, the due date wasn’t until Nov. 11, so we thought we had more time, but the timing just worked out great and I was so happy I got to be there,” he said.

With baseball season on hold this spring, Kolarek is now spending more time changing diapers than working on changing speeds on his pitches.

“That (changing diapers) is a given,” he said. “Fortunately my wife works remotely anyway, so her schedule is pretty much the same. The only difference now, when I would go to the field in Arizona for spring training we had a nanny that would come over and help us out while my wife was working and while I was at the field, so my wife is able to help whenever she can for a couple of minutes during the day, but I’m on dad duty and trying to prepare as well.”

How is he preparing for when play resumes?

“It is a little tricky because when you prepare in the off-season, you know what date you are preparing for and right now, you don’t know if you need to prepare for two weeks, four weeks, eight weeks or even longer,” he said.

“Everyone is trying to figure out and do what is best for themselves, for me personally, it’s just working out, obviously with facilities being closed, you are really kind of on your own, but so is everybody. I’ve just been going for runs around the neighborhood and at the local high school.”

Kolarek has also had to improvise.

“I have some weighted balls and a bag of baseballs and I will literally throw them against a wall or a fence up at the high school and just kind of stay ready that way,” he said.

That certainly didn’t surprise his father.

“Imagine, here’s a guy with a bucket of balls all by himself throwing against a fence so he can get his work in,” Frank Kolarek said. “I tell kids all the time, there is no excuse to not get your work in. Here’s a guy with his experience in the big leagues with the Dodgers who is by himself in this field.”

Unfortunately, he is not the only one alone at this time.

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