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On Yohan Flande, and hanging around until you get a chance

Yohan Flande was here, and now he’s not, and soon it’ll be over. But he was here. Against all odds, he was here.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Washington Nationals
Yohan Flande, on the day he beat Max Scherzer.
Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

Yohan Flande didn’t pitch much in 2016. He threw a shutout inning against Arizona on June 26, and then he allowed six runs (five earned) on seven hits while getting just eight outs against Toronto on June 28. A few days later, his Rockies tenure came to an abrupt end—designated, elected, and off to Korea where he failed to do much better. In 11 starts for the Samsung Lions, Flande was 2-5 with a 7.56 ERA, a 1.817 WHIP, and 44 strikeouts against 29 walks in 58.1 innings, an un-encouraging ratio for a 30-year-old with parts of three big league seasons under his belt.

Now, it’s no secret Yohan Flande’s big league career is (probably) over. He’ll be 31 before spring training begins, he washed out of two circuits in the same summer, and he’s a middling lefty with little deception and no notable track record in Triple-A, let alone the Majors. Maybe some club will give him a non-roster invite and he’ll pitch out his baseball life in the Pacific Coast League. Maybe he’ll head off to the Mexican League or wherever it is old pitchers go. But soon, the whole thing will end.

And so it goes—his name was eye-catching, he threw long relief for some bad Rockies clubs, he was little more than a spot-holder while the Jon Grays and the Jeff Hoffmans and the Tyler Andersons climbed, and he put up not-so-great stats through it all. When the Rockies have a ridiculous amount of young, realized talent on the roster in a year or two, when Jon Gray flirts with a Cy Young and the team fights for a playoff spot, you’ll look back and say ha! You guys remember Yohan Flande?! The Flan-Man! Look how far we’ve come!

You’ll remember the time Flande was hit on the leg by a Jedd Gyorko line drive and pulled for precautionary x-rays. When the x-rays came back negative, legend has it Flande tried to argue his way back into the game. Ha ha ha, you’ll say, as the Rockies clinch a playoff spot and David Dahl wins a batting title, that Yohan Flande was such a goof! Can you believe we used to have players like that?!

And, OK, sure. But whether arguing to go back into the game is fact or legend, whether Flande did it earnestly or tongue-in-cheek, there’s a deeper cut here: guys who have made it don’t try to pressure their way back into the middle of a game after being removed. Guys who have made it don’t campaign for goofy kinds of playing time at all, because guys who have made it are secure—at least, far more secure than the Yohan Flandes of the world who scrape and claw to stay on a 40-man roster, never make more than the minimum, never spend a full summer in the big leagues, and never put together enough service time to reasonably ensure financial security.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Colorado Rockies
Godspeed, Yohan.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not just Flande; there are hundreds of men in this position every summer, and the re-entry fable is poignant because the Yohan Flandes of the world have to understand their tenuous hold on The Show. They have to beg to re-enter after getting pulled, because if they don’t, they might never get another shot. Flande is the anonymous long reliever on a painfully slow Tuesday in July when the Rockies are down seven in the fifth and you have work in the morning and you just want to go to bed because it’s Gray Day tomorrow. Those Tuesday nights are forgettable when Gray Day looms on Wednesday, and so Yohan Flande is forgettable when Jeff Hoffman and Tyler Anderson and Yency Almonte and Ryan Castellani and Riley Pint and Peter Lambert loom, too.

But hell, man. That Yohan Flande even made it to Denver is its own achievement. He didn’t make his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League until he was 20, and then he spent two years there. He washed out of the minors with the Phillies, and then with the Braves, and then the Rockies took a chance as he perilously approached 30. He’s thrown exactly 1,124 innings in the minor leagues. That’s a lifetime.

And then he made it! Flande might have been a 28-year-old rookie, he might have spent ten years in the minors, and he might have just one year and eight days of Major League service time to his name as it all ends now, but you know what? He won three Major League games, and one of those was against Max Scherzer. Think about that—one afternoon, the stars aligned, and Yohan Flande went inning for fucking inning with Max Scherzer. And Scherzer blinked first.

I don’t know. I watched an absurd amount of minor league baseball this summer. I saw a lot of mediocre pitching from young men who threw 89 mph with bad off-speed stuff. And yet against all odds and logic and sense and better judgment, one or two or five of those guys will stick around long enough, persevere through injuries nagging and scary, overcome unexpected minor league assignments and bad fields and empty bank accounts and brutal road trips and bizarre fans and games with no fans and bonus babies who make it and bonus babies who don’t, and they’ll sneak in to The Show. Just for a moment. Just like Yohan Flande. And it’ll all suddenly be worth it.

This is probably overdone. It’s Ranking the Rockies, and not Unwanted Life Lessons with Bobby, and so tomorrow Eric will write about Cristhian Adames hitting .218 this year and how he must show more to be Trevor Story’s backup, or something. But today isn’t about stats, or projections, or the future—it’s not even about Yohan Flande, really. It’s about how you hang around, and hang around, and hang around, and you grind it out every day for ten years riding on cramped buses and staying in crappy hotels and sleeping on pull-out cots and walking the lonely path, because even though it’s hard, and unforgiving, and painful, you know where you’re going must be earned.

And then after a decade of this cruel purgatory, one day you find yourself in the right place at the right time, and you beat Max Scherzer.

And then it’s over.