MORGANTOWN — On the third day of a major league first-year player draft in which he thought he would go on the second day, but understood having injured his elbow in his final start at West Virginia probably hurt his stock, pitcher Chad Donato found himself tied to his computer.
The third day, which begins with the 11th round, is not broadcast on television, so there he was at home in Cypress, Texas, surrounded by his family and guests, watching and waiting for his name to be called.
You can only imagine the apprehension, and when his internet connection went down on him, leaving him looking at a frozen screen, it did nothing for his attitude.
As he fiddled with the computer, he heard a beep from his phone, then another and another. It was blowing up and he didn’t know why ... until he had to grab it and saw all these congratulations.
“I was the only one who didn’t know I’d been drafted,” he admitted.
Indeed, there he was until the phone rang and upon answering it, he found that his fondest dream had come true. The scout on the other end was from the hometown Houston Astros ... and just as the scout was telling him the computer came back live and it was catching up, the scout actually being able to hear the announcement with Donato that he had been taken by the Astros.
“The Astros take Donato, Chad, right-handed pitcher from West Virginia University,” came the announcement.
“Oh, man, I’m sorry,” said the scout. “I messed it up for your family.”
Donato assured him nothing could mess things up, not if it was the Astros drafting him.
In fact, it’s a few days later now and he’s still in awe of what transpired.
“It honestly hasn’t hit me yet,” he said Monday. “I think it’s hit my family more than me. It’s like a dream so far, a dream. I’m a Houstonian, born here, grew up watching hundreds and hundreds of Astros games. It was the team I really wanted to go to.”
His earliest memories are of Astros games.
“Watching the Killer B’s bat ... Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman. Having Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens on the team in 2005 when we lost the World Series to the White Sox,” he said, reciting what he recalled the most.
“We used to have season tickets, and going to the Astros games with my grandfather are my earliest memories,” he said. “I went two or three times a week with my grandfather. That’s one of the best memories I have.
“He was here at the draft. If it touched my grandfather, it touched me.”
Clemens, among the greatest right-handed pitchers of all time, became involved in his life in a unique way.
“I played with both of his sons. We played baseball and football against each other,” he said of Kacy and Kyle, who played at Texas last year and lived nearby. “We’ve always played against each other. There’s been a little rivalry between me and his sons and it gave me a little extra edge on the mound against Texas, a little extra competitiveness.”
As storybook as all this sounds, there is one setback. Throwing a 3-1 pitch with one out in the second inning of the semifinal game of the Big 12 tournament against Texas Tech, Donato felt something go wrong with his forearm.
“It started to tighten up,” he said. “I thought it was just dehydration.”
He left the game, however, WVU’s second starting pitcher in the first two games of the tournament to leave early to injury, and the next day he was in severe pain.
The examination showed he’d strained his ulna collateral nerve, possibly partially tore it, and is facing either long rehabilitation or Tommy John surgery, which is a tough way to begin a professional career.
“I’m going to have some of the best professional doctors with the major league teams. I’m in their hands now. I don’t know if I’ll rehab without surgery or need surgery,” he said. “I believe and trust these guys. There’s a reason they are doctors for a major league team.”
And he isn’t terribly shaken by the injury.
“If I had to pick an injury, I’d rather have Tommy John than a labrum tear in my shoulder,” Donato said. “Forty percent of major league pitchers have Tommy John surgery. Look at Stephen Strasburg. Everyone knows about him. He tore up his elbow. He was throwing in high school at 88-92. Now he throws at 98 and is hitting 100.
“It all depends on the rehab. You really have to attack and you can come back better than you were before.”
And that’s what he’s hoping to do, because he’s only halfway through his living dream.
Next stop is being their playing as an Astros as little kids begin building their memories.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.