Bakersfield’s Colby Lewis overcame long odds, such as Tommy John surgery at the age of 16, to have a lengthy pitching career in professional baseball. His list of accomplishments are plentiful, and include a winning outing for the Texas Rangers in the 2010 World Series.
Lewis will be inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 21 at the Marriott Hotel. He will be joined by former Garces High and Tehachapi football coach Gary Oglivie, longtime high school tennis coach Frank Thiessen, and former Wasco track and field coach Andy Darby.
“It’s definitely humbling to be a part of the hall with all the people I think made just a huge impact in the community,” said Lewis, who still lives in Bakersfield. “It’s pretty humbling to be next to the names on that wall (in the Rabobank Arena display area).
“I’m very, very honored. Just blessed to have had the gift to play baseball and play at the level like I did, and have the life I did and the family I do. I never thought anything like this would come from it.”
That improbable journey started when his mother would not allow him to play football, only baseball.
“My dad played football and blew out both his knees and my mom said I wasn’t going to walk around the house like dad did,” Lewis said.
But baseball had its pitfalls as well. Lewis had to undergo Tommy John surgery after his junior year at North High, forcing him to forgo his senior season.
That turned out to be just a small bump in the road for Lewis, who enrolled at Bakersfield College and came into his own as a sophomore when he struck out 108 amd earned first-team Western State Conference honors.
“I grew two-and-a-half inches out of high school, grew into my body and became a man,” said the 6-foot-4 Lewis.
More importantly, the hard-throwing right hander drew the attention of Major League Baseball and was drafted 38th overall by the Texas Rangers in 1999.
“That was quite the experience going through the whole process," Lewis said. “I’m glad I got to enjoy that. I was at my grandparents house to get on the computer to see where I was drafted.”
But it was hardly an instant success story for Lewis. He struggled in his first stint in the major leagues while playing for four different organizations, thrived for two years in Japan, and finished strong back in the states with the Rangers. He also battled through a variety of significant injuries during his career.
Among those was rotator cuff surgery in 2004 which forced him to miss all of the 2005 season, a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow during the 2012 season, and then bone spurs (and subsequent surgery) which sidelined him the entire 2013 season.
“I just worked hard, just grinding through all the injuries, that’s for sure,” Lewis said.
After a disappointing start to his career, Lewis decided to give the Japan League a try and it was there he rediscovered his form and confidence.
With his family staying with him during two seasons there, he racked up 15 wins in 2008 and led the league in strikeouts during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
“I went to Japan knowing how much money and how much stability I was actually going to have, plus I knew the type of atmosphere I would be in," Lewis said. "I fell into a nice rhythm. I think that’s the pitcher I always envisioned myself to be.”
Lewis said the sole purpose of heading to Japan was to enjoy the game and support his family.
“My son, Cade, was a year old and I felt I had to do something for my family. I figured I could enjoy my time and make as much money as I could. I love baseball and I was getting to play the game I loved," Lewis said.
“I didn’t go over there with expectations to prove myself and get back to the United States and I think that helped me. In my younger days I felt I stressed and worried too much and over there I just relaxed.”
Lewis was prepared to end his playing career in Japan but the Rangers came calling once again. Lewis signed a two-year deal with the Rangers in 2010 and pitched the Rangers to a Game 3 victory over San Francisco during the 2010 World Series.
“Going through that World Series was a highlight of my career, that’s for sure,” he said. “For all my family to be there and enjoy it was a true highlight.”
Lewis finished his playing career with the Rangers in 2016 and was named special assistant to the general manager in 2017, a position he still holds.
As for the person who helped him most throughout his career, Lewis didn’t hesitate.
“I think marrying my wife, Jenny, (in November 2003) helped me,” he said. “She just solidified everything. She kept me from doing anything dumb. All I wanted to do was get home and be around her. She is a huge part of my life. I think she was the biggest impact to drive me to recover from injuries and then having a family to support.”