Brian Falkenborg: Down in the Count

The Redmond High product signed with the Seattle Mariners organization in January of 2000, hoping to make a quick impact. Three and a half years later, he's fighting an injury that won't go away and waiting for a break.

When Brian Falkenborg's career ended at Redmond High School back in 1996, the tall right-hander said he had just one wish.

"I wanted to play professional baseball," he said, talking to InsideThePark.com after a recent home game at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.

Falkenborg got that wish. He was selected in the second round by the Baltimore Orioles, led at that time by general manager Pat Gillick.

Once in the pros, everything seemed rosy. Falkenborg posted a 2.57 ERA in six starts that year for the Gulf Coast League Orioles. In 1997, he showed the promise that Gillick saw when he drafted him, striking out 107 batters for Single-A Delmarva.

It wasn't until 1998 that the problems began. Or more specifically, the elbow problems.

He missed two months of the season with pain in his right elbow, and in 1999 was forced to sit for another two-month stretch to rest it once again. In 2000, he underwent Tommy John surgery in hopes of fixing the pain for good.

It's been an uphill battle ever since.

Falkenborg was released by the Orioles, and on January 24, 2000 decided to sign with the team he grew up admiring, the Seattle Mariners.

"All I know is that you cannot take someone off the 40-man roster while they are still hurt, and I guess they didn't activate me before they took me off the 40-man," said Falkenborg of the way his stint in Baltimore came to an end. "They were told they either had to release me or put me back on the 40-man roster, and they chose to release me and try to sign me back. When that happened, this situation opened up and it was just too good to pass up."

A new start, a fresh breath of air, and the future appeared bright once again for the home-town kid.

But before anyone could get overly excited, the injuries followed him. He missed time again in 2001 and 2002, the elbow still bothersome and the shoulder acting up periodically, splitting time between Double-A San Antonio and Tacoma.

His stuff remained unquestioned. His health, however, always a concern.

Falkenborg joined Tacoma out of spring training this season, and shot out of the gates with a 2-1 record and a 2.29 ERA in seven starts

"I think I was mixing pitches well and throwing strikes," Falkenborg said of the first month and half of the 2003 season. "I was also kind of lucky and got (the batters) to hit (the ball) at people when I needed them to hit it at people."

But just when it appeared that everything was full-speed ahead, the pain returned to his right elbow.

"It was something that came on the last two or three starts that I made, and progressively got worse," said the imposing 6-foot-6 pitcher. "I made a decision to take this break, and hopefully when I come back I will have no further problems with it."

He was placed on the disabled list on May 13.

Though it seems like it'd be simple, being forced to sit is never easy. And for someone like Falkenborg, who's already had to do it several times in his career, it's made it that much tougher this time around.

"It's frustrating when you are hurt and you see your guys go out there and play, and you can't participate," said Falkenborg.

"It's frustrating but it's always better to be safe than sorry and have it go into something worse. I've already had one surgery on my elbow and I'd like to avoid having another one."

The Redmond-native is due to return to the mound for the Rainiers in the coming weeks. He can't hide the excitement when he talks about it, still valuing his opportunity to play in front of friends and family in the great Pacific Northwest.

Once he takes the mound again, he says he understands he'll have to be on top of his game in order to get a look from the big league club.

"You know in this organization that you are not going to get a chance unless they feel that you can help them win up there," said Falkenborg. "It's not going to be a situation as it is with some clubs of just bringing you up and saying, ‘Son you are going to get your butt kicked a little bit, and we are just going to keep throwing you out there.'

"The Mariners expect you to win up there and you have to be ready for that."

Seven years after being drafted by the Orioles, Falkenborg finds himself wishing again. Now 25-years-old, he just wants to hit a point where he can remain healthy and work his way up to big leagues.

Once injury-free, he feels he can do the rest.

"It's just about keeping the mindset that I had before the injury, and finding the same mindset when I am healthy again."


Joe Kaiser is a graduate of the University of Washington and the publisher of InsideThePark.com. He puts reading feedback right up there with the Mariners' 116-win season, and can be reached at joe-kaiser@excite.com.


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