On Thursday night, with little fanfare or announcement, the Rockies released Stephen Cardullo.
In three years, most Rockies fans likely won’t remember Cardullo. He’ll be confined to message board conversations and tweets about the most obscure Rockies players and lists of independent league players who donned Rocky Mountain purple.
Cardullo, a 29-year-old left fielder, couldn’t quite handle major league pitching. He hit .190 in 91 plate appearances, with two home runs and nine RBI. Ultimately, his release was likely to clear a spot on the 40-man roster—a spot someone else will inhabit sooner or later. Cardullo’s release likely closes the book on his Rockies career, but it shouldn’t be all we remember from his story.
After graduating high school, Stephen Cardullo wasn’t even recruited for college baseball. He was one day from quitting baseball when a tryout at Florida State ended with him being chosen to play as a walk on for the Seminoles. Three years later, he was a first team All-American at shortstop. It wasn’t the last time he’d take full advantage of his last chance.
In 2010, Cardullo was drafted in the 24th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. For a kid who had to try out for college baseball, getting drafted at all is a huge accomplishment. But Cardullo wasn’t satisfied with just being drafted and playing a bit in a major-league system. When the Diamondbacks cut him after 2011, he wanted to continue playing. So he went and did so in unaffiliated baseball.
Cardullo became a fan favorite for the Rockland Boulders of the Canadian-American circuit. He won a league championship, he had chants of his name, and he had coaches begging for him to get a shot. When the Rockies signed him to a minor league contract prior to the 2016 season, Cardullo was the longest-tenured player on the Boulders, having appeared in 283 games.
The fact that Cardullo ever took an at-bat in the major leagues is an incredible story. Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world would have given up—Cardullo even thought about it. But he didn’t give up and that perseverance and dedication was rewarded on Aug. 26 of last year, when he stepped to the plate for the first time as a big leaguer. More than six years since he was drafted by Arizona, a full decade since his initial tryout in Tallahassee, Cardullo was taking batting practice in a major league ballpark. Everyone earns their time in the bigs, but Cardullo clawed for every minute he spent in the Rockies clubhouse.
On Aug. 31, his 29th birthday, Cardullo may have proven the existence of the baseball gods. He hit his first career home run in the first game of a double header, only to blow that accomplishment out of the water in the nightcap with a grand slam. Five days into a six-year journey, Stephen Cardullo had two home runs and five RBI.
It wasn’t meant to be, ultimately. Pitchers quickly figured Cardullo out and even his patience at the plate wasn’t enough to keep him on as a fourth outfielder in Denver. On Thursday night, Cardullo’s time with the Rockies ended. His story moves on.
No one knows what’s next for him in baseball. Maybe this is finally it. After all, he achieved what no one thought possible. For the kid who cried when he was offered a shot at Florida State, maybe two career home runs and 42 career games in the majors is enough.
But, if we’ve learned anything about Cardullo, it’s that counting him out is a fool’s errand. He wasn’t recruited, he wasn’t given a shot, so he certainly has faced this before and overcome it.
In three years, we probably won’t talk much about Cardullo. That’s a shame, because Stephen Cardullos don’t come around often, and they sure aren’t around long enough.