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Tim Melville and joy in the midst of a down season

In just two starts, Melville is reminding Rockies fans why we’re still watching

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Barbeque sliced beef and bread

Rib and sausage and a cold Big Red

Barbeque makes old ones feel young

Barbeque makes everybody someone

Robert Earl Keen, “Barbeque”

Back on August 21, when the Rockies called up Tim Melville to pitch the third game against the Diamondbacks, I surely wan’t alone in saying, “Uh, who?”

We were all feeling, well, distraught: Tyler Anderson had been out for the season; Jon Gray underwent surgery for a foot fracture; Kyle Freeland suffered a groin pull; Antonio Senzatela was in Albuquerque. Why be excited about some guy no one had ever heard of?

Was I ever wrong.

Before the day had ended, the Rockies had won, and Melville had pitched 7 innings, giving up two hits, one run (earned), two walks, four strikeouts. Plus, he had a hit and two RBI. To be fair, he’s not a remarkable-looking fellow: a big guy, chunky, ruddy cheeked with a great smile. But his breaking stuff was terrific. (Purple Row dubbed his curveball “The Harpoon.”) Tim Melville’s pitching was an oasis in what had been an August of despair, the end to any post-season dreams the team may have had.

On Monday, Melville had his Coors Field debut, which ended with the Rockies walking off the Braves. He went five innings, giving up no hits, three walks, and throwing six strikeouts. It was another bright moment. In that game, Melville became only the sixth pitcher in Rockies history to throw five or more scoreless innings in his Coors Field debut — no one had done it since Drew Pomeranz in 2011. (After two games, Melville’s bWAR is 0.9.)

Just to be clear, August wasn’t all bad, and there were other highlights, but if I’m picking an August MVP for the Rockies, it has to be Melville.

Yes, he has pitched well in a team desperate for good starting pitching — and I do not want to undervalue how important that is. But perhaps even more, Melville has brought hope with him — maybe not for the 2019 Rockies, but he embodies what can come from struggle.

Nick Groke writes, in 2008 Melville was the top high school pitcher in the country, a fourth-round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals. He had Tommy John surgery in 2012, moving between various minor-league systems. In 2016, he debuted for the Reds, and in 2017 pitched in three games between the Twins and Padres. And that was it.

Then in November 2018, he landed at Little Miss BBQ, not too far from Chase Field, where he went to study the art of barbeque. (Just read Groke’s profile.) In April, he went to a D-backs game and wondered if he could still pitch, so he entered the Atlantic League, doing good work there before Steve Foster sent him an invite to join the Rockies minor league system. On August 21, the Rockies brought him back to the majors.

Now that’s a story.

It turns out, Melville’s persistence and learning from past failures explains his current success. He carries it in his body. As Jack Etkin explains:

Foster described Melville as long, lean and loose five years ago. He’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds and is definitely not lean. Melville twists slightly to his right in his delivery. When asked if he hides the ball in his windup, Melville said he, indeed, might and then pointed to the origin of his deception: his belly.

“Different body, different frame, maturity in his ability to talk the game,” Foster said. “He was young, he was a kid, he was learning. He had a little bit of that brashness to him that I’m going to throw it past everybody.

There is real joy that comes with watching a pitcher who is in the zone — and Melville has absolutely been that — but at the end of the day, Tim Melville is having fun — so much fun, infectious fun. He is happy to be where he is right now, doing what he is doing, and he knows that it took him a long time to get here, and he understands that this may not last, and so right now, while it is good, Melville is enjoying every last minute of it, with the enthusiasm of a starving man finally enjoying a good meal.

In his YouTube post-game interview after the Rockies’ walk-off, Melville was almost giddy, answering questions and smiling while wearing a Jomboy “I LOVE BASEBALL” t-shirt.

The joy takes focus on Instagram (@timelville) where he has fewer than 1800 followers. Tuesday morning, he went to the Denver Zoo and Instagrammed some gorillas before heading off to Roaming Buffalo BBQ and surveying the place with the eye of a connoisseur: the smoker, the dining area, the staff, and finally his meal: meat, beans, and cornbread. Wednesday morning, he was off to Owlbear Barbecue. Let me recommend this RoxPile conversation where Melville speaks about the joys of barbeque and food in general. “Barbeque makes everyone someone,” indeed (though having nasty breaking stuff helps).

Everything about Tim Melville is joyous. That’s good for the Rockies, who could use some joy right now (in addition to some starting pitching), and it’s good for fans, especially during this slog of a disappointing season. The Rockies have Tim Melville to remind them (and the rest of us) that baseball is fun, that carpe diem is a pretty good life philosophy, and that maybe the struggles of 2019 are necessary for a successful 2020.

Bud Black likes to say, “That’s baseball” as a way of explaining the often-disappointing randomness of a wonderfully mysterious game. Right now, Tim Melville is living the other side of “That’s baseball,” which is all about wonder. And that’s worth celebrating.