Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke comments on his side session to minor leaguers at Salt River Fields on Mar. 13, 2017. By Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports
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Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin gave up three runs in 3 1/3 innings against the White Sox but came away sounding upbeat. Video: Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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Right-hander Taijuan Walker struck out eight in four scoreless innings for the Diamondbacks on Friday vs. the Brewers.
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Diamondbacks right-hander Zack Greinke’s fastball was in the upper-80s on Wednesday at Salt River Fields.
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Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller lasted 2 2/3 innings against the A’s, giving up six runs, on Tuesday. Scott Bordow/azcentral sports
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Arizona Diamondbacks RHP Taijuan Walker gave up just one hit in three scoreless innings against the White Sox on Sunday, Mar. 5, 2017. (Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports)
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Diamondbacks starter Patrick Corbin, who is vying for a spot in the rotation, gave up two runs in three innings against the Padres on Saturday in Peoria.
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Diamondbacks right-handed Shelby Miller talks about his impressive outing vs. the Cubs. Miller struck out six in three innings.
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Diamondbacks right-hander Archie Bradley tossed three scoreless innings in his second start of spring training.
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Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray was upbeat despite walking three in 1 1/3 innings on Wednesday. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale breaks down the story lines to follow as spring training heats up.
USA TODAY Sports
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Diamondbacks right-hander Taijuan Walker talks about his outing on Tuesday against the Texas Rangers in Surprise. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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Here are some longtime favorites about America’s favorite pastime.
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The MLB is changing up the intentional walk in an effort to improve the pace of play.
USA TODAY Sports
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The Brewers by position: Bullpen
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USA TODAY Sports has released its projected win totals for the 2017 MLB season.
USA TODAY Sports
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USA TODAY Sports released its annual list of players to watch for in the upcoming season.
USA TODAY Sports
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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spoke about his frustration with the MLBPA, which he said rebuffed the league’s efforts to make any of a number of rules changes at Tuesday’s Cactus League Media Day at the Biltmore. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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The Diamondbacks’ Ken Kendrick discusses the team’s lawsuit with the Maricopa County Stadium District over over Chase Field maintenance costs at spring-training camp on Friday.
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Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo discusses star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and his new team’s foundation at Cactus League Media Day at the Arizona Biltmore on Tuesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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The Diamondbacks had their photos taken on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017 at Salt River Fields.
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Cubs manager Joe Maddon discusses how difficult it is to win back-to-back championships in the MLB on Tuesday at Cactus League Media Day at the Arizona Biltmore on Tuesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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Cubs manager Joe Maddon discusses how to prepare for this season in regards to overworking and injuries after last season’s championship run at Cactus League Media Day at the Arizona Biltmore on Tuesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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The Arizona Diamondbacks hosted fans to celebrate the start of spring training and the 2017 season at D-Backs Fan Fest at Salt River Fields on Monday. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
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Diamondbacks closer Fernando Rodney tosses a bullpen session at Salt River Fields.
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There are several MLB teams looking for new stadiums, while at least two are happy with their old-school dwellings.
USA TODAY Sports
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Diamondbacks right-hander Taijuan Walker throws his first official bullpen session of spring training at Salt River Fields on Tuesday. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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Diamondbacks pitcher Shelby Miller tosses his first bullpen of the spring at Salt River Fields on Tuesday. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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Ron Gardenhire, Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach, annouced on Tuesday that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the team’s spring training complex at Salt River Fields. Manager Torey Lovullo also spoke. Video: Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports
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Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo on what he sees in his team and pitcher Shelby Miller heading into the first days of spring training at Salt River Fields. Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports
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D-Backs pitcher Archie Bradley, sporting facial hair that he has not shaved since October 31st, reports to spring training camp in Scottsdale. (Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports)
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D-Backs skipper Torey Lovullo press conference at spring training camp in Scottsdale. (Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports)
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D-Backs pitcher Patrick Corbin reports to spring training camp in Scottsdale. (Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports)
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Diamondbacks right-hander Archie Bradley talks about the excitement of getting spring training started, saying “I couldn’t sleep last night.” Video: Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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The Diamondbacks have faced tough seasons and payroll limitations, and it might cost them a beloved franchise player. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
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Proliferation of young talent in the game provides an abundance of inexpensive options to stock a roster.
USA TODAY Sports
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Are the Arizona Diamondbacks right to sue Maricopa County over Chase Field? Columnist E.J. Montini says no.
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With the longest championship drought in American professional sports, the Cubs have seen a lot change since they last won the World Series, in 1908.
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Zack Greinke comments on his throwing session
Diamondbacks’ Patrick Corbin after spring outing vs. White Sox
Taijuan Walker after latest dominant start for D-Backs
Zack Greinke on his diminished velocity in start vs. Mexico
Shelby Miller discusses latest start
D-Backs’ Taijuan Walker on his latest strong outing
D-Backs lefty Patrick Corbin after spring outing vs. Padres
Shelby Miller on his outing vs. Cubs
Archie Bradley on strong outing vs. Padres
Robbie Ray on his spring training debut
Spring training story lines to watch
Taijuan Walker throws two innings in spring debut
Some things about Spring Training season just haven’t changed…
MLB changing intentional walks for 2017
Just the FAQs: Brewers at bullpen
Projecting the 2017 MLB season
MLB’s 100 Names to Know for 2017
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on rule changes, MLBPA cooperation
Diamondbacks’ Ken Kendrick discusses team’s lawsuit
D-Backs manager Torey Lovullo on Goldschmidt, team’s core
Behind the scenes at Diamondbacks Photo Day
Cubs’ Joe Maddon on why it’s difficult to repeat
Cubs’ Joe Maddon on this season’s preparation
A look at Diamondbacks Fan Fest 2017
Closer Fernando Rodney throws bullpen session
Baseball stadiums on the way out or in danger of extinction
Taijuan Walker throws bullpen session at Salt River Fields
Shelby Miller throws bullpen session at Salt River Fields
D-Backs bench coach Ron Gardenhire diagnosed with prostate cancer
D-Backs manager Lovullo on getting started, Shelby Miller
D-Backs pitcher Archie Bradley talks about his beard
D-Backs skipper Torey Lovullo press conference
D-Backs pitcher Patrick Corbin reports to spring training camp in Scottsdale
Diamondbacks’ pitcher Archie Bradley: “New year. New team. New everything. We’re excited.”
D-Backs near crossroads with Goldschmidt
The best MLB lineup realistic money can buy
Montini: Diamondbacks’ lawsuit is one big error
Cubs, coffee and cars: How things have changed since the North Siders last won the World Series
It’s been seven years, but a good bartender can always remember how to pour a great drink. Just ask Diamondbacks relief pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen, who once gave up baseball to fall out of society, backpack across Europe, hike throughout North America’s state parks and yes, become a bartender in his hometown of Tucson.
“It was a blast,” the 33-year-old right-hander said.
The most popular drink at The Hut, a popular tiki bar near the University of Arizona campus where Wilhelmsen worked, has always been something called the Fat Man. The 60-ounce concoction is named after the first atomic bomb and it’s not just because the bar sits in a former metal fabrication plant that used to make bomb casings during World War II.
“You start with 4 ounces of liquor,” Wilhelmsen began, recalling how to make the cocktail. “Coconut rum, pineapple rum, Midori and another flavored rum. Then you add pineapple juice, soda water and some grenadine with a pineapple, cherry orange slice to boot, an umbrella hat and a smile.
“Oh yeah, and it’s served in a fishbowl. You know, like something you’d get at a pet store if you bought one of those Japanese fighting fish.”
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Yes, this is a sports story. But it’s also a story about life. It’s about trials and tribulations, self-deprecation and self-discovery. It’s also about freedom and personal choice and that was Tom Wilhelmsen in a nutshell not long after he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers as a seventh-round pick out of Tucson High in 2002.
After his first year in the lower minor leagues, he tested positive twice for marijuana and was suspended for the entire 2004 season. He spent some time in a treatment facility, but when he returned for spring training in 2005, Wilhelmsen decided baseball was no longer for him. So he quit.
Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do.
“That’s what everyone has to do, right? So yeah, I knew what I needed to do,” Wilhelmsen said. “That’s why I left. I knew I didn’t want to do this anymore, so I stepped away and did what I wanted to do. It’s not worth doing something, especially like this, if you’re not going to do it 100 percent.”
CACTUS LEAGUE: Coverage from azcentral sports and ASU’s Cronkite School
There was nothing nefarious about Wilhelmsen’s decision to walk away. He was young and spirited, to be sure, but he was also wise beyond his years when it came to recognizing the brevity of one’s short time on Earth.
“I did it because I wanted to do it. I wasn’t searching for anything,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to find myself. I had a pretty good idea of who I was, obviously, because that’s why I quit. Because I knew I wasn’t in the mood to play baseball anymore. So I did it because it’s what I wanted to do. Those were my interests at the time. I was just fulfilling my own dreams.
“I wanted to travel. I wanted to hike. I wanted to get lost in the woods.”
He did it all during his five-year hiatus, from spending Oktoberfest in Germany and getting robbed in an Amsterdam hostel to admiring Michelangelo’s “David” in Italy and hiking alone at Yosemite National Park in northern California where he “ran into mama bear.”
“It was actually baby bear and that turned into mama bear,” Wilhelmsen said, laughing as he recalled the moment inside the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse at Salt River Fields, where he is here as a non-roster spring-training invitee. “I had the camera in one hand and a knife in the other just in case. Luckily, they took off after a little stare down.”
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Luckily, too, Wilhelmsen reconnected with his high school girlfriend, Cassie, who helped him quit smoking cigarettes and pot. He started training again in 2009 and after marrying Cassie, he tried out and signed with an independent league team. A year later, he caught the eye of then-Seattle Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik, who had been Milwaukee’s scouting director when Wilhelmsen was with the Brewers.
By 2011, Wilhelmsen found himself pitching in the major leagues and he’s been there ever since, completing one of the more peculiar and adventurous journeys you’ll see in sports.
“It’s a great story. It’s a pretty special story,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “I know his journey has taken him to a lot of different places and we’re just thrilled to have him here right now. … When you hear a story that’s one of perseverance and commitment and recommitment, he’s easy to cheer for. Those guys, there’s something a little more special when they do well. You enjoy that and you enjoy those moments with them.”
Wilhelmsen stands a decent chance to break camp with the Diamondbacks. The 6-foot-6 reliever features a four-seam fastball that still reaches speeds of 95-98 mph and he throws a 12-6 curveball that often buckles a batter’s knees.
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After being released this past season by the Mariners, for whom he once was part of a six-pitcher no-hitter in 2012, Wilhelmsen said Arizona was his preferred destination. He didn’t care who was or wasn’t on the roster, he said. He wanted to come home.
“It feels pretty special to potentially wear Arizona on my chest,” he said. “Obviously growing up here, the Diamondbacks were my favorite team. I remember them winning the World Series and I had the flag on my truck going to school. To be able to be in this locker room and walk through the hallways and see pictures of the teams I remember form the past is really, really special. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Neither could Douglas “Fini” Finical, a former co-operator of The Hut in Tucson who now runs Fini’s Landing on the other side of town.
“He is the salt of the Earth,” Finical said of Wilhelmsen in a 2011 interview with ESPN. “What you see is what you get. He’s a gregarious guy, very open. There’s sort of a displaced hippie in him. He loves the Grateful Dead. I see him as a guy who would be just as happy in 1968. One of those people who is completely genuine. Just completely original and genuine.”
Wilhelmsen could talk to you all day about strike zones, release points and hitter’s tendencies, but he’d rather discuss politics, music, food and brag about his vast collection of tie-dyed T-shirts. Maybe “Fini” Finical was right: This guy actually does belong in 1968.
“I don’t know. Maybe I was born in the right era to kind of remind other folks that it’s OK to be free. It’s OK to have your own will,” Wilhelmsen said. “In this day and age, there’s however many of us and I’m proud to be who I am and to share my history with folks.”
If you run into Wilhelmsen around town, feel free to call him by his nickname, “The Bartender.” That’s what all of his teammates have called him since he left The Hut in Tucson and made his comeback to baseball.
“I’ve been called a lot worse,” Wilhelmsen says, “so ‘The Bartender’ is totally cool with me. I don’t mind it at all. It’s flattering that you can have a nickname, I guess.”