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¡Viva Zavada! D-backs rookie breaks into bigs riding handlebars

David Brown
Big League Stew

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OK, so Clay Zavada(notes) (right) has some work to do before his 'stache becomes Rollie Fingers-worthy.

But his obvious sense of style and reverence for history cannot be ignored, especially considering Zavada's unlikely climb to the majors, christened with a victory in his first big-league appearance on Thursday night.

Part of Zavada's astounding rise was told in a New York Times article this past December. Zavada has overcome a few obstacles, to say the least, in reaching the majors.

• He grew up in a burned-out small town in central Illinois with his top college option being a Div. II program — Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.

• A 30th-round pick of the D-backs in '06, Zavada played a season in rookie ball before his father died of a heart attack later that year. Responsible for maintaining his family's property, which includes farmland, Zavada stayed home and failed to report for spring training in '07. The D-backs terminated his contract after losing contact with him.

"I was just sitting around, trying to figure things out," Zavada said.

• Adhering to his father's wish, Zavada re-enrolled in college and completed his bachelor's degree, delivering furniture along the way in what became a seemingly endless string of part-time jobs.

"I was pretty much done with baseball," Zavada said.

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• Even though he hadn't picked up a ball in over a year, a friend persuaded Zavada to try out for the local independent team, the Southern Illinois Miners, in '08. Zavada excelled, the D-backs noticed and they signed him again in June. Between the two clubs, Zavada went 5-2 with an 0.88 ERA and 76 strikeouts and nine walks in 51 innings.

• Minor-league salaries being what they are — low — for players such as Zavada, he kept a bunch of the part-time gigs until spring training '09 to make ends meet. He worked construction, and at a sawmill, he refurbished a motorcycle and a go-kart to sell on eBay, and he shot an intruding opossum so the dead critter's carcass might attract raccoons — who have valuable pelts.

• Over the winter, he worked out at the local high-school gymnasium at the crack of dawn, the only time it would be otherwise empty with his former coach — one of the school's assistant principals — available to catch him.

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• Zavada failed to go north with the D-backs after spring training, but he had a 2.65 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 17 1-3 innings for Double-A Mobile. The D-backs brought him up this week after placing Scott Schoeneweis(notes) on the bereavement list.

Now rocking a handlebar mustache that recalls the days when Fingers and Mr. Redlegs played, Zavada pitched a perfect seventh inning against the Marlins. He struck out Emilio Bonifacio(notes) and Jeremy Hermida(notes), then watched Mark Reynolds(notes) hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth. The rest of the D-backs bullpen held on to make Zavada a winner in his first major league game.

Only in America.

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