CLEVELAND — On a rainy night in a dingy hotel parking lot in Maryland, a minor league baseball player made a call that changed his life.
His fingers dialed a familiar number. When Art Talbot answered the phone in Cedar City, Utah, his youngest son had a request.
"I'd been praying that he'd keep his moral compass, with so much that can happen on the road...," Art Talbot said. "He asked if I would send him his scriptures. We sent him those, and things changed."
Six years later, the now-major league baseball player was having lunch near Lake Erie with his wife, Julie, and gave a cashier his credit card. The man looked at the card, then quickly back at the couple. They wondered if they needed to show ID.
"You're Mitch Talbot. You're the Mitch Talbot. I'm in shock. I don't know what to say."
Talbot had arrived again. He's an elder in the North Olmsted Ward, Cleveland Ohio Stake, not to mention an inning-eating pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. He’s both an elder in the North Olmsted Ward, Cleveland Ohio Stake, and an innings-eating pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. After spending seven years in the minors, the 26-year-old starting pitcher and former second-round draft pick finally has a spot in a big league rotation. And his family couldn't be more happy — or supportive.
Toil and testimony
To say it's been a long, hard road for Talbot, the youngest of six kids, would be an understatement.
During his junior year at Canyon View High School, Talbot attracted the attention of baseball scouts. He was told that by the time he graduated, he could be a sixth-round pick. Talbot had a decision to make: play college baseball and probably go on a mission, or chase a little boy's dream of professional baseball.
"Coming out of high school, I wasn't the most active," Talbot said. "I'd go to church, but I didn't do anything outside of Sundays. I was out with friends or doing sports. I didn't plan on going on a mission."
Art Talbot said his son always did his duty in the church, but wasn't "spiritually minded." He let his son make his own decision about his future. After being drafted in the second round in 2002 by the Houston Astros, Mitch Talbot packed his bags for Martinsville, Va.
Through it all, the young baseball player also remembered his father's encouragement to stay on the right path.
"Examples can rub off on people," Talbot said.
He spent his first four years working his way from rookie ball in the Astros' farm system to Double-A. For a boy from a Mormon outpost in Southern Utah, the minor league party lifestyle was somewhat of a culture shock. And while he made friends and tried to be an example, he detested it.
Talbot says he remembers the night he called his father requesting his scriptures "like it was yesterday."
Family noticed the change. The shy younger brother who hated to pray in public finally did after a hunting trip in Panguitch, Utah, older brother Jay Talbot said. He spoke of consistency in reading the Book of Mormon and how that helps in secular life. He was ordained an elder in 2006 and met his future wife while playing basketball in Cedar City during the offseason. In December of 2007, Talbot and Julie Stradling, of Gilbert, Ariz., were married in the Salt Lake Temple. The event helped cement already-strong family ties, as would be evidenced by family, in-laws and friends driving eight hours to Anaheim, Calif., to watch him win a six-hit, one-run start against the Angels on April 27, 2010, without him knowing, and only to drive back after the game so Art could get back to work.
From Houston, Talbot was shipped off to Tampa Bay, where he was quickly buried in a farm system rich in pitching. While pitching for Triple-A Durham, he was called up only once, on July 1, 2008. After the start, he was sent back down to Durham.
"It was one of the biggest blows ever," Talbot recalled. "I couldn't believe it."
Talbot got one more start during September call-ups, pitching for the '08 American League Champs, but was sidelined with an elbow injury in 2009. He seemed done, out of options. But the consistency of his faith, and especially his wife, gave him one last hope.
"Being down in the minors helps you to learn to trust in the Lord through everything," Julie said. "There's points where he's all you have. You don't have the family support system. He's it."
Enduring to the end
That hope came in a late-December phone call at 8 a.m. Talbot's agent told him he was traded to the cellar-dwelling Cleveland Indians. But it didn't matter. He'd be hours away from Jay, who is studying to be a dentist at Ohio State, and light years away from an eternal sentence of Triple-A.
"No one calls me that early in the morning. I knew we had been traded," Talbot said. "It was such a good feeling to get out of there. I just knew I wouldn't get the chance in Tampa."
Having a chance was all Talbot needed. An unknown going into spring training, Talbot felt calmness on the mound, knowing it was his last chance. Instead of trying to do too much, as he had in Tampa, he impressed manager Manny Acta enough to name him to the Tribe's starting rotation.
"I was in shock for the first few hours," Julie Talbot said. "I just sat by myself just crying, so happy and proud of him. He's living every little boy's dream."
It began more like a nightmare, as Talbot allowed six hits, four runs and walked five batters in five innings of work in a 4-2 loss at Detroit. But shortly afterward, the synergy of faith and family set in again to help the Mormon rookie.
It was his home debut at Progressive Field against a vaunted Chicago White Sox lineup that had seasoned veterans and World Series winners. Jay was in attendance, but most of his family was 2,000 miles away. In a six-hit, no-walk outing that included retiring 12 straight batters and 17 groundouts, Talbot didn't even notice what was going on until the final at-bat of the ninth. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, and emotion was running high.
"It just hits you," Talbot told Jay after the game. "You're going for that first win, in a complete game. I got really, really nervous."
He wasn't the only one.
Julie and her brothers were screaming from Arizona, sad to not be there, but happy nobody else could see their antics in public. Jay wished he could be alone with a radio, pacing away the tension.
In Cedar City, Art was smiling with some popcorn in hand, watching on television as the commentators said his son — the one that fought with his brothers, the one that didn't like to do religious things in public, the one that once told his little league teammates to stop messing around because he wanted to make the majors — had just pitched his first complete game, the Indians' first back-to-back complete games since 1996.
Afterwards, the rookie received the ceremonial cream pie in the face from his teammates. But that was only the beginning of a nationwide celebration that crossed time zones and interstates.
He had finally made it.
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