It happened at 7:46 p.m., the night of April 14, 2005. The ball spiraled toward home plate from the right arm of West Virginia Power starting pitcher Derek DeCarlo, a 2004 ninth-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers.
DeCarlo didn’t have a memorable or lengthy stay in professinal baseball. In fact, it lasted two seasons and 47 games before the rigthy’s promising career was truncated because of a right hip injury.
But on that night, with that pitch, DeCarlo carved his place in Charleston’s minor league baseball history. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Florida native threw the first official pitch at Appalachian Power Park.
“It was just the luck of the draw,” DeCarlo said of breaking in the East End ballpark, which is in its 10th year of existence.
DeCarlo was part of a two-pitcher piggyback system with another of the Brewers’ 2004 draft picks, Yovani Gallardo. If it was DeCarlo’s turn to start, Gallardo would relieve him and try to complete the game. If it was Gallardo’s turn, DeCarlo would be called upon to take the ball from Gallardo as pitch counts dictated.
DeCarlo, who compiled a 6-4 record with a 4.94 earned run average in 32 games (five starts) with the Power in 2005, had the fortune of starting against the Hagerstown Suns in the Power’s first game in its new stadium. A total of 5,354 fans attended the game to see the Power defeat the Suns, 8-3. DeCarlo not only threw the first pitch, but he was credited with the first win and first strikeout in ballpark history.
Gallardo, who to date has started 179 games and made more than $18 million in the major leagues, earned Power Park’s first-ever save in relief of DeCarlo.
The 31-year-old DeCarlo returned to his hometown of Miami after his 2005 season was cut short because of the bum hip. He first had the injury at Miami’s Florida International University before he was drafted by the Brewers, and in his first full season of pro ball the pain of competing became intolerable.
“I could’ve kept playing,” DeCarlo said. “I didn’t want to keep hurting myself and play with pain any longer. I was done with it.”
He could only use a stationary bike or treadmill for conditioning because the collision of foot to ground was too hard on DeCarlo’s young body. He returned home, met with doctors and determined his age 22 season would be his last in the minors.
He never advanced past the low-Class A South Atlantic League.
“I had been playing with pain since college,” DeCarlo said. “Going into a full season of baseball with games every day, practice and training, my body was not able to keep up with what I was asking it to do.
“I wasn’t in shape to perform to the level I wanted to perform. At some point or another I was not going to be playing anymore, so I wanted to go out on my terms.”
DeCarlo couldn’t handle a doctor telling him he’d need a hip replacement by 40 years old if he continued to play baseball. He turned in his ballcap for a construction helmet and joined the family business: DeCarlo Construction. He’s now the vice president of the company.
“I went back to the family roots,” DeCarlo said.
He briefly coached high school baseball and still follows the sport from afar. He’ll hear a name on SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight and realize he’d crossed paths with that player on the farm, several rungs away from the big leagues.
For example, DeCarlo faced New York Mets minor leaguer Carlos Gomez the night Power Park opened. Gomez had the ballpark’s first single and stolen base. Last season, Gomez was a first-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner, ironically, with the Brewers.
“It’s cool to see those guys on the big screen,” DeCarlo said.
DeCarlo said he maintains contact with former Power pitcher Robert Hinton, one of his roommates in Charleston. DeCarlo also shared a home with Clay Blevins and Joshua Wahpepah. Hinton is the only one of that foursome to advance above AA, but he never made it to the majors.
“It was a great experience in my life,” DeCarlo said. “Meeting all the guys I got to meet, the teammates, the lockermates, being on the road. Looking back, it seemed like a long time, but it was so short.
“If every kid playing baseball got to experience that even for a short amount of time like I did, it would be something.”