Thad Weber is not exactly a household name, even in the most baseball-crazed houses, but his story is no less interesting. Some of you may remember the now 30-year-old right-handed reliever from his short time with the Blue Jays two years ago, although I wouldn't blame you if his tenure went unnoticed. Weber threw six innings over five games, allowing three runs on seven hits, striking out four. Respectable numbers to be sure, but the small sample was scattered over three separate stints with the Jays in the summer of 2013. The rest of his time was spent in triple-A Buffalo, where he also pitched well, holding a 2.61 ERA over 100 innings as a starter.
The summer with the Blue Jays was Weber's fifth year in professional baseball, and after failing to solidify a spot on his third major league team, he decided it was time for a bold move. Weber had enjoyed playing winter ball in Venezuela, but he chose to go a little bit farther this time, moving to South Korea to join the NC Dinos of the KBO League. Weber was not he only foreigner to make his Korean debut last season on the Dinos, he was joined by another former Blue Jay in Eric Thames. Thames, a prolific slugger in the Korea, decided to remain with the Dinos for the 2015 season. Through 46 games for the Dinos, Thames is hitting .350/.464/.783 with 17 homers, striking out just 15% of the time.
Generally players are forced into the choice to play internationally later in their career, when they have lost hope of returning to the Show. For Weber, a simple change of pace was necessary.
"I have kind of a worldly view of the game," said Weber, "I've seen it from all levels of professional baseball here in the U.S., from the low minor leagues, to the big leagues […] Getting to see the game and what it means to other people [abroad] gives you an appreciation for how good we have it here."
Weber's time in Venezuela helped reduce the culture shock, at least in terms of the ballpark culture over in Korea.
"In comparison to the minor leagues, the game is a little more exciting, a little bit longer. The games are very involved, it's team-orientated," he continued.
"Players and fans are very energetic, very passionate. You feel like there is more pressure involved in each game over there, just because how involved they are in every pitch and every game."
It was bitter-sweet to hear Weber speak so fondly of the Korean game, because the Toledo MudHens, Weber's current team in the triple-A International League, and the Bisons had just finished a thrilling 12-inning affair. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Coca-Cola Field, and yet as each inning passed, more and more fans filed out of the stadium, leaving just a scattered few to cheer on the most exciting moments of the game. After the Bisons squandered the lead, the pressbox clearly heard kids yelling from the other side of the park, even as the home team tried to rally back. It made it easy to imagine a much better brand of baseball.
Weber feels like his team overseas did not change him as a person, it just made him better prepared to deal with the adversities that comes with the game and life in the minor leagues. This is a guy that you can't help but root for, as he tries to resurface in the big leagues with the Tigers franchise.
He has a good deal of talent. In 2009 he threw a no-hitter for the Erie Sea Wolves, and has pitched well enough to earn cups of coffee with the Tigers, Padres, and Blue Jays.
The past two years have not been the greatest statistically for Weber as he sported a 4.58 ERA in 118 innings for the Dinos last year, and has an underwhelming 5.08 ERA for Toledo this year. With that said baseball is a game of rhythm, and all of the change in his life has left Weber without much rhythm on the mound until his past three starts. Weber has shown much more command and aggression with his pitches, and he credits that to his ability to get in the rhythm of the game. In that time he has allowed just four earned runs and one walk over 21 strong innings.
Perhaps the well-cultured journey man will make a name for himself yet.