An unlikely start leads Dunn to 500 games

Rockies reliever didn't grow up playing in a baseball hotbed

An unlikely start leads Dunn to 500 games

DENVER -- Rockies lefty reliever Mike Dunn made his 500th Major League appearance Monday night, which made him think of going the extra mile just to have the opportunity for one game.

Dunn faced one batter -- a role that has become his during the season's final month -- and forced a Derek Dietrich infield popup to finish the top of the ninth in the Rockies' 5-4 loss to the Marlins. Had the Rockies flipped the score, he could have celebrated a win as well as the milestone number. Nonetheless it's meaningful.

Growing up in Farmington, N.M., playing on summer travel teams for his father, Greg, Dunn believed he had the talent to advance but saw and heard that it was difficult to be scouted there.

"In my hometown, the only time you'd see the scouts come out was the Connie Mack World Series," Dunn said. "Being the home team, you don't always have the best team there. You might have two or three games to try to get your name out there."

Dunn hooked on with a team out of Albuquerque for a fall tournament in Arizona. It was then that some suggested he move to Las Vegas, which has a large community of Major League scouts, for his senior year of high school.

It turned out his mother, Diana Shay, was planning to move to Las Vegas after Dunn graduated high school. And Dunn's grandparents were living there. The summer before his senior year, he played on a team run by scouts from the Rangers and Cardinals. It was a good time, also, to prove himself to the man who would be his coach at Cimarron Memorial High School, Mike Hubel.

"He only knew me as a pitcher, but I told him I could play the field, too," Dunn said. "He saw me play and said, 'Yeah, you can hit for us, too.' I went there, didn't really know a lot of people. I just kind of played."

The move worked. Dunn signed at the College of Southern Nevada, a two-year-school, as an outfielder and first baseman. The Astros selected him in the 14th round in 2004 out of high school and followed him until close to the next MLB Draft since they still held his rights, which was the old draft-and-follow rule that's since been abolished. But Dunn, who had hoped to be selected in the top 10 rounds, liked his team so much his freshman year at the College of Southern Nevada that he opted to return to school.

The following year, Yankees took him in the 33rd round as a first baseman. After the season, Dunn decided to brush up on his pitching by playing in the Elkhart League -- a college summer wood-bat circuit. He did so well the Yankees signed him.

Interesting question: Could scouts have found Dunn had he stayed in Farmington?

"One of my close friends ended up going to Dixie State [University, St. George, Utah], which was our big rival in college," Dunn said. "So eventually, I would have gotten my name out had that been the case."

Now his name is on a special list of pitchers who have appeared in 500 games.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.