Dustin Molleken has pitched here before, nearly half a lifetime ago. He was a 17-year-old on the Canadian junior national team, he said, pitching against Team USA. At that point, he dreamed of coming back here as a Major Leaguer.
Fourteen years later, Molleken walked into Rogers Centre on Thursday afternoon as a member of the Detroit Tigers' bullpen, readying for a four-game series against the Blue Jays' formidable offense. And the Rogers Centre crew was ready for him, posting his picture and stats profile on the scoreboard, complete with a Canadian Maple Leaf to denote his heritage.
It's a different part of the country for the Regina, Saskatchewan, native. But it feels like home.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," he said, "especially being at home here. It means so much to me to be at home and throw."
It's a feeling Molleken wasn't sure he'd ever get as he waited for a call from the big leagues. He has spent 13 years and 349 appearances in the Minors, including parts of six years at Triple-A across four different organizations. He went to Japan to pitch for the Nippon Ham Fighters a few years ago, but came back. He nearly quit, but his agent told him not to give up. Far from growing bitter, Molleken picked up a reputation for his kindness, even helping out clubhouse kids doing laundry after a game on occasion.
"You have to pay your dues," he said with a smile.
Molleken made his way to the Tigers' system last fall with help from an old scout. Joe Ferrone originally signed him with the Pirates in 2003, and he remembered Molleken when he joined the Tigers for a second stint as a Major League scout this past fall. When the Tigers were looking for Minor League free agents to stock the system, Ferrone put in a good word for Molleken.
When depth issues challenged the Tigers to look for fresh arms at Triple-A Toledo, the word from manager Lloyd McClendon and the coaching staff was Molleken. He was called up on Father's Day last month for a brief stint but didn't pitch, essentially serving as an extra arm.
When the Tigers called him back up from Toledo on Monday with Jordan Zimmermann going on the disabled list, Molleken didn't have to linger long. He made his Major League debut on Monday at Cleveland and threw two innings, allowing a run on three hits with a walk and two strikeouts. His first Major League strikeout was Mike Napoli.
"My legs felt like jelly," Molleken said. "My heart rate was going, but when I threw my first pitch, I felt normal."
An appearance in Toronto could prompt a similar feeling. He'll have his wife and daughter at the ballpark, and plenty of friends watching on television.