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Adam Kolarek joins Jeff Nelson as only two Catonsville High graduates to play in World Series

Jeff Nelson, a 1984 Catonsville High graduate, was on four World Series championship teams with the New York Yankees.
Jeff Nelson, a 1984 Catonsville High graduate, was on four World Series championship teams with the New York Yankees. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky)

Catonsville High graduates Adam Kolarek and Jeff Nelson both took similar long journeys through the minor leagues before making their Major League debuts as pitchers.

Now, the pair of Comets, who graduated 23 years apart, are in the same historic club of being pitchers who have been on World Series championship teams.

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They are the only two players from Catonsville High to play in the World Series and they join Moose Haas (Franklin), Brian Jordan (Milford Mill) and Mike Bielecki (Dundalk) as Baltimore County baseball players to play in the fall classic. Haas, Jordan and Bielecki lost in the championship.

Kolarek, 31, is a left-handed reliever for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who defeated Tampa Bay in six games in the best of seven series and captured their first title since 1988.

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Kolarek, a 2007 Catonsville High graduate, appeared in the fourth game of the series and pitched 2/3 innings and allowed 0 earned runs in the Dodgers’ 8-7 victory.

That came after an outstanding regular season in which he had a 3-0 record with one save and a 0.95 earned run average and 0.79 WHIP in 19 innings.

A southpaw with a three-quarter sidearm delivery, Kolarek didn’t allow a run in his first 14 regular-season appearances and only allowed two all season.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Adam Kolarek works in the ninth inning against the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Oct. 14, 2020. Kolarek and the Dodgers advanced to the World Series and he became the second Catonsville High graduate to reach the fall classic.
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Adam Kolarek works in the ninth inning against the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Oct. 14, 2020. Kolarek and the Dodgers advanced to the World Series and he became the second Catonsville High graduate to reach the fall classic. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

He made his Major League debut seven years after being drafted in the 11th round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the New York Mets out of the University of Maryland and made three postseason appearances during the Dodgers 2020 run to the World Series.

His Major League debut came with the Tampa Bay Rays on June 28, 2017, but two years earlier he made a change in his delivery that hastened his path the the big leagues.

In May of 2015, he lowered his arm angle while pitching for the Double-A Binghamton Mets.

“I just felt the need personally to just try to find that little something that was going to make a difference for me, kind of set me apart as far as having a little bit more run on the ball and more sink and that’s really what it has been,” said Kolarek in 2015.

Nelson, 53, a right-hander with a three-quarter sidearm motion like Kolarek, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1984 in the 22nd round.

He opted to sign with the Dodgers rather then take a four-year scholarship to play at Old Dominion University.

His mom, Judy Nelson, was confident he made the right choice, telling the Catonsville Times, “I think one year we will see him in the Major Leagues.”

Jeff Nelson, shown pitching for Catonsville High in 1983, was drafted by the Los Angeles in 1984 and pitched for the first of four World Championship teams with the New York Yankees twelve years later.
Jeff Nelson, shown pitching for Catonsville High in 1983, was drafted by the Los Angeles in 1984 and pitched for the first of four World Championship teams with the New York Yankees twelve years later. (Courtesy Photo)

Nelson made his Major League debut in 1992 with the Seattle Mariners.

He was eventually traded to the New York Yankees and pitched on World Series teams that won championships in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

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He also pitched for the Yankees when they lost to the Florida Marlins in 2003.

In the four World Series victories, he delivered 12 of 13 scoreless outings.

Just over 20 years ago, on Oct. 21, 2000, Nelson pitched in an historic World Series game one when the Yankees defeated the crosstown rival New York Mets, 4-3, in 12 innings.

At the time, it was the longest game (4 hours, 51 minutes) in time in World Series history.

That was passed in 2017 when the Dodgers beat the Red Sox, 3-2, in seven hours and 20 minutes in 18 innings.

Nelson pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings of one-hit ball in the 2000 classic that ended with a game-winning hit by Jose Vizcaino.

“That was against the Mets and obviously it was intense because it was two teams in New York,” Nelson said.

The second game of the Mets series was the only one where Nelson allowed a run in all his World Series appearances, but the Yankees still won the game, 6-5, and went on to win the series in game five.

“It was a home run to Mike Piazza,” Nelson recalled.

In game four, Nelson notched his only World Series victory, hurling 1 1/3 scoreless innings and benefitting from a Derek Jeter home run in a 3-2 triumph.

In Nelson’s first World Series in 1996, he pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts as the Yankees ousted the Atlanta Braves in six games.

His first World Series outing came in the Braves' 12-1 victory in game one.

“We got beat pretty bad by the Braves the first two games, so basically they said we are just going to give you an inning to get your feet wet and that way if we need you in crucial situations it will be a little bit easier,” said Nelson, who lives in New York City.

He pitched a scoreless eighth and couldn’t wait to get out there again and he conquered the challenges.

“It was one of those things where I kind of used the negativity in those atmospheres,” Nelson said. “I would tell myself, ‘I’m not going to be the goat here, I’m not going to sit here and blow the game and I’m not going to have all these media members and fans boo me, there is no way.’”

Watching from the bullpen didn’t simmer him down.

“It was a lot easier to pitch. It was harder to watch a game because you had no control of it,” he said. “You could control something when you are pitching and it became easier to be out there. I wanted to always be in those situations.”

He proved that with two scoreless innings in three appearances in the 1998 sweep of the San Diego Padres and in 1999, when he pitched in all four games and allowed no earned runs in 2 2/3 innings when the Yankees swept the Braves.

In the 2003 loss to the Marlins in six games, he tossed four more scoreless innings in three outings.

Nelson made his final Major League appearance with the Chicago White Sox on June 2, 2006 and retired as a New York Yankee after signing a minor league contract on Jan. 12, 2007.

That was two days before Kolarek celebrated his 18th birthday during his senior year at Catonsville High.

Nelson’s career included 798 games and 784.2 innings pitched with 829 strikeouts and an earned run average of 3.41. He had a 48-45 record with 33 saves.

Like Kolarek, his rise and faster path to the Major Leagues coincided with a change in his arm angle.

A starter for most of his minor league career, he imitated one of his idols one day in Double-A,

“I was always a big Dennis Eckersley fan and I wore number 43 because of Dennis Eckersley so I said, 'You know what, ‘I’m going to try to emulate him and he was a three-quarter guy so that’s what I started doing,’” he recalled. “I was dropping down three-quarters and my breaking ball got a lot bigger and my fastball moved more.”

One of the sliders he threw hit his catcher in the chest.

“He said, ‘Forget it, do not ever change from this arm angle,’” Nelson recalled. “That’s what got me to the big leagues, I almost wish I was a reliever and did that earlier.”

It helped earn him his only all-star appearance in 2001 when he hurled a scoreless inning in the American League’s 4-1 victory.

The game was historically memorable because it was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final all-star game and the Iron Man, who played in 2,632 consecutive games, hit a home run.

The 6-foot-8 inch Nelson knew Ripken from playing basketball at his house in the off-season.

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“For four straight years I was playing basketball with him three nights a week and I knew him through that really well and I got to finally be his teammate for one day,” Nelson said. “When I did play (basketball), I was in the minor leagues and we were always on separate teams because we were always the biggest guys and we had to guard each other.”

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During that time, he backed off from Ripken in the paint.

“I was like, this is Cal Ripken and I don’t want to push him around and hurt him and he would always kind of push me around a little bit,” Nelson said. “Once I got in the big leagues, I said, ‘I’ve got as much to lose as he does, so I started pushing back.’”

That wasn’t Ripken’s only encounter with Catonsville High athletes.

Six years before Nelson graduated from Catonsville High, Ripken Jr. pitched and hit Aberdeen to a 4-3 victory over Catonsville High in the 1978 Class A state semifinals.

Aberdeen went on the win the state championship, and five years later, Ripken caught the final out for the Baltimore Orioles in their victory over Philadelphia in Ripken’s only appearance in the fall classic.

Kolarek has now joined Hall of Famer Ripken and fellow Catonsville alum Nelson as World Series champions.

Nelson hoped the Catonsville native could enjoy the ride through his first fall classic.

Catonsville High's Adam Kolarek, shown on his way to 14 strikeouts in the Comets' 9-4 2007 Class 3A North Region championship game win over Franklin, was drafted by the New York Mets in the 11th round of the 2010 draft and is currently pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
Catonsville High's Adam Kolarek, shown on his way to 14 strikeouts in the Comets' 9-4 2007 Class 3A North Region championship game win over Franklin, was drafted by the New York Mets in the 11th round of the 2010 draft and is currently pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. (File photo/2007)

“Our first World Series was ’96 and you don’t really enjoy it as much because it’s almost overwhelming,” Nelson said. “You have tons of media members all over you. The media is not nearly as bad now because everything is done by zoom, so it’s a little bit easier for these guys to adjust.”

Adjusting and remaining calm has always been one of Kolarek’s strengths through high school, college and into the Major Leagues.

“Basically, enjoy it, guys that don’t have the most success try to make the moment bigger then what it really is,” Nelson said. “Yes, it’s the World Series, yes, everybody in the world is watching, but try not to make it any bigger then a regular season game.”

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