I’m not sure why I never heard this story before. After reading it, I remembered Adam Pettyjohn back when he was with the Tigers, but somehow, I never heard what happened in the intervening years:

It took seven years of swimming upstream for Pettyjohn to complete an unlikely return to the major leagues. He pitched one scoreless inning Sunday for the Cincinnati Reds, his first appearance since 2001. His story is hard to believe, but this is no fisherman’s tale.

Pettyjohn’s career was severely sidetracked when he developed ulcerative colitis that led to three surgical procedures, including the removal of his colon in 2002. A year after striking out Ken Griffey Jr. in his major-league debut for the Detroit Tigers, he lost 65 pounds and was reduced to lifting five-pound weights and learning to walk again.

Thus began Pettyjohn’s journey through baseball’s backwaters to somehow return to the big leagues. He doesn’t care to dramatize the ordeal – at one point his surgeon said he was 48 hours from death – but there is no getting away from his extraordinary comeback.

Seems like everyone gave up on Pettyjohn after a time. Only, he never gave up.

Twice released and once sold, Pettyjohn retreated into the independent leagues in 2005. He brooded, resenting the rejection he believed was solely the result of his illness.

“I vanished from baseball for two years because of health issues, not because of performance issues,” he said. “You leave for two years and it’s forever.”

Pettyjohn made it back to Double-A in 2006, the old man of the Texas League, and was released in June, about the time he turned 29. He inched his way to Triple-A, but Oakland didn’t tender him a 2007 contract. Pettyjohn was surviving while learning to pitch again.

In 2007, he found himself. He went 16-6 between Double-A and Triple-A for Milwaukee, yet was never promoted to the Brewers. This year he went 15-6 at the Reds’ Triple-A Louisville affiliate, and after striking out 10 in one of his last starts, Baker noticed.

I would love to see this guy stick in the big leagues, after what he has been through. Great story.

7 Responses

  1. Kevin

    That’s a really remarkable comeback! Maybe he’ll make the bullpen next year…

    What does it mean that his colon was removed? Does that mean he’s somehow living without a colon, or was it replaced or something?

  2. Y-City Jim

    Thought the same thing, Kevin.

    You really want guys like this to succeed.

  3. Fire Dusty NOW

    I don’t think he’ll crack our starting rotation next year, but he could definitely wind up being a long man out of the bullpen, or even another LH specialist.

  4. Fire Dusty NOW

    I haven’t seen him pitch yet, any word on his stuff, velocity, and control?

  5. Matt Steele

    You can live without a colon, it wasn’t replaced. It changes some things up but they attach the small intestine to well yeah…. you can get the picture (or maybe you should just look it up haha)

    My friend had the exact same condition, it’s intense and unpleasant. Glad to see Pettyjohn make it back and I hope he does stay in the bullpen.

  6. Matt B.

    Wow, as a person with a similar condition, I definitely know what he went and goes through. I really do hope he succeeds on the major-league level.

  7. preach

    Awesome story. We could use a left handed long man; hopefully it works out.