Perseverance pays off for Dillon Gee and his father

Dillon Gee working out during spring training baseball Dillon Gee working out during spring training baseball practice Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The invitations came from many teams, but the Mets seemed to be the most eager. So when the day arrived, father and son drove through the heart of Texas for a workout three hours from home.

They arrived to find a waterlogged ballfield. It had rained all day. They tried waiting out the storm, along with 80 other hopefuls who made the journey. This was their best chance, after all. But the rain never stopped. The field was unplayable. And now the Mets' scout in charge was trying to send most of them home.

He told the group that the workout would be moved to a small indoor facility about 45 minutes up the road. Only 15 could go. Then he read aloud from the list of the chosen few.

Dillon Gee didn't hear his name.

Disappointed, he was ready to begin the long drive home. But before he made it to the car, his father made a beeline toward the scout, Ray Corbett.

"I was embarrassed," Gee said last week. "But that's kind of how my dad is. He was probably thinking, 'I didn't come here for nothing.' "

advertisement | advertise on newsday

On Monday, the father, the son and the scout again will meet at the same place at the same time. Their paths haven't crossed since that rainy afternoon in Texas seven years ago. But they will be together at Citi Field for Opening Day as Gee takes the mound against the Washington Nationals.

Gee ultimately got his tryout, and as he's done many times since he was chosen by the Mets in the 21st round of the 2007 draft, he made the most of his opportunity. This afternoon, he will become the 23rd Opening Day starter in franchise history, joining a prestigious club that includes Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and Johan Santana.

"It's kind of hard to imagine," Kevin Gee said. "That's all you want for your children when you raise them, to achieve the things that they want. But to get to see him take a step like that, it's great."

The default choice

Gee, 27, was the first to admit that he received Monday's assignment by default.

Matt Harvey likely will miss the entire season while recovering from Tommy John surgery and Jon Niese is on the disabled list after injuring his elbow late in camp. Zack Wheeler is starting his first full big-league season. And, although Bartolo Colon is a former Cy Young Award winner, he's in his first year with the Mets.

That left Gee, whom manager Terry Collins wanted to reward for his steady climb through the organization. An injury to Santana opened the door for Gee to make his big- league debut in 2010. Since then, he has defied the odds to become a stalwart in the rotation.

He's not exceptionally tall, nor does he throw exceptionally hard. In a Mets system rife with pitching, Gee is easily overlooked. But what he lacks in raw velocity he makes up for with consistent precision.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"He just finds a way," pitching coach Dan Warthen said. "His location is better than most. He has an above-average changeup. He's able to throw all of his pitches for strikes on both sides of the plate. That [ability] is mental as well as physical."

Twice, shoulder injuries nearly derailed Gee's career. As a minor-leaguer, he endured an arduous rehab from a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder. Two years ago in the big leagues, a blood clot near that shoulder wiped out the second half of his season.

In 2013, Gee bounced back. He was the only Mets starter to stay on the roster from start to finish, going 12-11 with a 3.62 ERA and logging a team-high 199 innings.

"People along the way at every level said that I wouldn't do good at the next level," Gee said. "For me, it was motivation. I loved the challenge, to be like, 'OK, I'm about to show your [butt],' you know? I like to make people eat their words."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Give Dad credit

Of the 30 pitchers who drew their team's Opening Day assignment, 25 were chosen in the amateur draft, including 15 who were first-round picks. Two were selected No. 1 overall, including the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg.

He will be opposed by Gee, chosen No. 663 overall out of the University of Texas-Arlington. Among this season's Opening Day starters, only 30th- rounder Scott Feldman of the Astros was taken later.

Of course, Gee might not have been chosen at all had his father not stopped the scout on that rainy afternoon in Texas.

"It's just what I felt like doing," Kevin Gee said. "I was honored that they sent him the letter to get a tryout and I thought they wanted him. It was sad that he wasn't going to be able to do it."

Corbett ultimately relented and Gee was flawless in his tryout.

A curtain shielded Gee from seeing the radar gun readings, so father and son devised a system: After every fastball, Kevin would hold out his hand, raising a finger for every mile per hour over 90. But Dad got so lost in watching his son that he immediately forgot to relay the pitch velocities.

"The third one he threw, he hit 95," Kevin Gee said. "And I'm like, 'Oh, crap,' so I stick my hand out with a five, you know? You could see the sweat pouring off him. I remember him telling me, 'I was giving it everything I got and you hadn't even stuck your hand out yet. I thought I wasn't even busting 90.' "

Later that summer, shortly after the draft, the father called the scout. He thanked him for signing his son.

"He's gotten chances that a lot of people didn't even get," Kevin Gee said. "But when he got the chances, he's always been able to come through. He's just always been good at figuring out what it takes."

Subscribe to Newsday’s sports newsletter for stories, photos and videos about your favorite New York teams plus national sports news and events.

You also may be interested in: