There are always a lot of great stories on opening day. When the season begins, players who have worked their way up from the farm for years finally get a chance to set foot on a Major League field.
This year, one of those stories hit close to home for me.
Six-foot-4-inch left-handed Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Donnie Veal sat in the visitor’s bullpen at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Monday, preparing for his first game in a Major League uniform. Unfortunately for the southpaw, his biggest fans were not in the stands.
Donnie’s mom, Tanya, was my high-school freshman basketball coach.
Her passion could hardly be measured in words. She was barely 5 feet tall, but she scared me enough for me to make sure I never relaxed on a play.
She was a driving force behind Donald and his brother Devin, now a wide receiver on the UA football team.
Tragically, in November 2004, Tanya passed away from cancer. As hard as it was, Donnie, who was pitching at UA at the time, stuck with baseball. He knew his mom would’ve wanted nothing different.
After battling injuries at UA, Veal transferred to Pima Community College and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2005.
Donnie started off strong. In the second half of the 2006 season, he started 14 games at Single A Daytona and posted a 6-2 record with a 1.67 ERA.
The 2007 season was a little rougher, as the lefty went 8-10 with a 4.97 at Double A Tennessee. Still, though, Veal was high on the Cubs’ radar.
Then, on Nov. 10, 2007, the unthinkable happened. Donnie’s father, Donald Sr., died in a scuba-diving accident in Mexico.
It just wasn’t right. The Veals had always been a family that in my hometown of Sierra Vista, Ariz., people respected and admired.
So it is near impossible for anyone there not to root their hearts out for Donnie and Devin to do big things.
In December, Donnie was nabbed by the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft, giving him a great shot to make a 25-man MLB squad. And when Pittsburgh announced its opening day roster last week, Donnie’s name was on it.
He threw his first Major League pitch on Tuesday at Busch Stadium.
“I’ve got two angels on my side now,” Veal told MLB.com last year.
Something tells me those angels were hovering around St. Louis last night