How did this happen? How did a righthanded pitcher with a mundane fastball become an All-Star candidate in his rookie season? How did Dillon Gee, a guy who was so far off the radar in college that his father had to sweet-talk a Mets scout into taking a look at him, win his first seven decisions this season before finally losing Tuesday?
"It has never dawned on Dillon that there's something he can't do," Kelly Gee said.
That includes being a major-league starting pitcher despite having been drafted in the 21st round in 2007.
His mother says it seems as though everyone from his hometown of Cleburne, Texas, will be at Rangers Ballpark Sunday to watch him pitch for the Mets. The rest of the world may not have known Gee's name until this season, but his athletic prowess has been somewhat legendary in Cleburne, located about 40 miles south of Arlington.
Kelly said her younger son started walking at 8 months, started throwing off a makeshift pitching mound in the backyard when he was 3 and was riding a bike without training wheels when he was 4. Before growing nine inches his sophomore year in high school, he usually was one of the smallest kids in the class. But that didn't stop him from competing with, and beating, kids twice his size.
Gee, who is 6-1, 205, learned how to defy expectations early.
"Being small definitely instills that desire in you," he said. "You know that you're always going to have to prove something. People look at you and think, 'What's this kid doing?' You know you have the talent, but you get overlooked for your size. I think it really instills the desire and wherewithal in you."
Gee, now 25, was overlooked by baseball scouts when he was at the University of Texas-Arlington. Because his fastball clocks in at 89 mph, maybe 90 on a good day, not many major-league scouts were interested in him. The Mets, however, invited him to a large open tryout at a junior college his junior year.
Once he got there, it was announced that the tryout had been canceled because of rain. Gee's father, Kevin, had taken a day off from his job with the Fort Worth fire department to attend the tryout. As they prepared to return home, Kevin noticed that the team had pulled a few of the players aside and told them not to leave.
"They were going to bus those kids two hours to the Astrodome in Houston for a tryout," Kelly said. "Dillon was not one of those kids."
Kevin approached a friendly- looking scout and told him he really ought to see his son pitch. The scout told him if he wanted to make the drive on his own with Dillon, they would take a look at him.
The Mets liked what they saw, or liked it enough to end up making Gee the 633rd overall pick. He signed with them for only $20,000.
Gee's mother remembers asking a scout at the time what the odds were of his making the majors. When the scout told her it was 1 in 10, she remembers being both shocked and worried.
"But my husband wasn't at all," she said. "He said, 'Those odds are for most people. Dillon will make it.' "
It took a while because of a torn labrum suffered in 2009. But he finally did.
Last season, with the Mets decimated by injuries, he was called up in September and went 2-2 with a 2.18 ERA in five starts. Gee again started this season in the minors and again was called up because of injuries. This time it appears he is here to stay.
Gee has a 3.21 ERA and has allowed only 52 hits in 70 innings this season. Since 2000, only one other rookie has opened the season with a winning streak of at least seven games. Jered Weaver started 9-0 for the Los Angeles Angels in 2006. Weaver, however, was drafted in the first round, not the 21st.
Before a 7-3 loss to the Athletics Tuesday night in which he walked a career-high six batters in four innings, the Mets had not lost in 10 starts by Gee this season. The lack of command was almost shocking, given that Gee's exceptional control has been what has helped him overcome his pedestrian fastball and his lack of a dominant second pitch.
Gee, however, says he already has put the performance behind him and is looking forward to pitching against the team he grew up cheering for.
"I have a lot left to prove,'' he said. "I have three months in the big leagues. Every time I go out, I want to keep proving that I should be here."