Brayan Bello did not sign a professional baseball contract until he was 18-years-old. To most of us, 18 is incredibly young. You don’t know anything about anything when you’re 18 – not who you are, not who you want to be, not what’s an appropriate appetizer to bring to a dinner party.
But for a select few people from certain other walks of life, 18 is actually incredibly old: female gymnasts, Disney Channel stars, kids who grow up as the eldest of 8 in one of those freak-show reality TV families, and, notably, Dominican baseball players. Some of the most talented Dominican players start training with buscones on a near-full-time basis when they’re as young as 12-years-old. They start working out in front of scouts and team executives when they’re 14. And then they almost all sign shortly after their 16th birthdays, immediately becoming the family breadwinner before they’re even shaving on a regular basis.
You have to wonder how many times Brayan Bello contemplated giving up in those two years after his 16th birthday, two years when he was more or less completely ignored as a baseball player, stuck on the outside looking in at his dream. He must have felt old, watching fresh batches of 16-year-olds scooping up six-figure bonuses he would never see. He must have wondered whether he’d be better off washing dishes or waiting tables in Samana, the coastal resort town where he grew up and where, you imagine, the back-of-the house hotel staff is filled with ballplayers who never made it off the island.
But Brayan Bello was patient. He kept working. And it all paid off last night.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more unlucky start to a career than what Bello’s endured this season. Coming into last night’s game, his FIP was an almost unfathomable five runs lower than his ugly, 8.47 ERA. He’d given up a measly two barrels in 17 innings. He’d allowed no home runs and hardly any fly balls of any kind.
And then comes last night’s start, his first after a short IL stint caused by a groin strain. Here he is, already on a run of bad luck, taking the mound for a floundering team, and what does his defense look like behind him? There’s a converted infielder in centerfield; a converted outfielder at first; and, at shortstop, bewilderingly, a 6’4”, 227-pound emergency fill-in whose best defensive position is DH.
A lot of young players – maybe even most young players – probably wouldn’t have handled that situation very well. But Brayan Bello’s already had to learn how to deal with bad luck, with frustration, with the feeling that outside forces are conspiring against you. And so he calmly took the mound in the first inning and proceeded to retire the top of one of the game’s most fearsome lineups on just nine pitches. A three-pitch strikeout that left George Springer staring out at the mound with a “what just happened” look in his eyes. A five-pitch strikeout that had Vlad Guerrero nodding to the on-deck hitter on his way back to the dugout, saying “this kid’s got it tonight.” And then a 98 MPH four-seam fastball that Lourdes Gurriel weakly grounded to the left side, where it was calmly scooped up by, of all people, Bobby Dalbec, DH/1B/3B/SS.
Bello cruised from there. He walked just a single hitter. He surrendered just one hit in the air (a not particularly well-struck looping liner from Springer). And he displayed a fastball-changeup mix that was so potent you were allowed to whisper “Pedro-esque” without being immediately struck by lightning.
He deserved his first major league win, and he may have gotten it had Kiké Hernandez handled a relatively routine grounder in the fourth inning, or had the Sox offense not squandered one chance after another against a struggling Jose Berrios. But despite another tough-luck night, Bello looked calm, he looked in control, and he looked like he was having fun.
And why not? Brayan Bello knows that his first major league win is coming eventually. He just has to be a little patient.