Pitching an escape for Cubs' Veal
Prospect coping with loss of parents, new responsibilities
CHICAGO -- Donnie Veal is trying to keep busy. The left-hander starts his workouts early at the Cubs' facility in Mesa, Ariz., and then goes to a gym in Tempe to do all the things professional pitchers normally do prior to Spring Training.
It's easy to focus on baseball. It keeps his mind off the other unexpected responsibilities he has to deal with these days. In November 2004, Veal lost his mother to cancer. On Nov. 10, nearly three years to the day his mother died, Veal's father was killed during a scuba diving trip.
That's a lot for a 23-year-old to handle.
"I'm doing good, as best I can," Veal said from his Arizona home. "Right now, I'm just trying to get through things. If I need to talk to someone, I talk to my girlfriend [Stephanie] or my brother [Devin]. Things are going good now. I'm working out, throwing and getting ready for Spring Training, and that takes my mind off things."
Baseball is part of the healing process. Veal can leave the heartache behind for a moment when he steps on the mound.
"Whenever I go to the park and go work out, it's a nice escape because I don't think about anything for a little bit," he said. "Even in the baseball season, it's always been that way for me."
Veal was drafted after his mother died. The Cubs chose him in the second round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, and he immediately got to work on baseball, pitching in the Mesa Rookie League and at Class A Boise.
In 2006, he was 5-3 with a 2.69 ERA at Class A Peoria and 6-2 with a 1.67 ERA in 14 starts at Class A Daytona. Last season was a little bit of a setback, as the lefty went 8-10 with a 4.97 ERA at Double-A Tennessee.
"It was a down year, in my opinion," Veal said of the '07 season. "My first half was really bad. I put a lot of pressure on myself at the start of the season to get to Chicago instead of enjoying myself and continuing to improve and get better. In the second half of the season, I turned it around a little bit and got better, so I'm trying to work off that."
So, we'll see him in Chicago soon?
"That's the plan, yes," he said.
That's what his parents would want. After his mother passed, Veal said he learned to appreciate the game more. With his father gone, he is enjoying the little things in life, like seeing his girlfriend smile or hugs from his brother. He's had to shoulder more responsibilities regarding Devin.
"When I leave the park, I have to be dad, mom, brother and everything," he said.
Devin, a redshirt freshman on the Arizona football team last season, often makes the drive from Tucson to the Phoenix area to spend weekends with his big brother.
"It's not too much [responsibility]," Donnie said. "You've got to stay on top of it. There's all new responsibilities and stuff you never thought about. I'm trying to get things squared away with my father's estate and all that."
Veal's father, Donald Veal, Sr., had just finished getting his certification and was diving in San Carlos, Mexico, when the accident occurred. The news came as a shock. Donald Veal Sr. wasn't even 50 years old. He'll never see his son play Major League Baseball.
"At first, I didn't talk to anybody for about a month," Donnie said. "A lot of players called. I've slowly started to call people back and am getting back into things."
He's trying to avoid too much down time.
|"When my mom passed, it was a rough time, and I ended up playing and had a pretty good year and everything worked out. I have no doubt I can repeat that. I've got two angels on my side now."|
|-- Donnie Veal|
"You don't really get used to it, but you have to," he said.
The Veal boys were introduced to sports by their parents.
"My brother and I have been playing since the first age we were allowed to -- like five or six [years old] -- and we played soccer, baseball, Little League, T-ball, basketball, other stuff," Veal said.
Last season, he could only watch while some of his Double-A teammates were called up to the big leagues. Whenever he could, Veal would catch Cubs games on TV. The others in the Tennessee clubhouse did as well.
"When [Sean] Gallagher and [Billy] Petrick were called up early in the season, whenever there was a chance of them getting into a game, we watched," Veal said. "You play with these guys a couple years, and you get to know them. I'm a huge fan of both of those guys. Then [Jake] Fox and [Sam] Fuld got called up, and I tried to get to the TV whenever I could."
Seeing his Minor League teammates not only get the call but also a chance to play helped motivate Veal and the others. Pitcher Kevin Hart definitely inspired Veal. The right-hander impressed the Cubs so much in his eight September appearances that he made the playoff roster for the National League Division Series.
"Hart turned it on midway [in the season] and never looked back," Veal said. "That's great incentive for anybody."
These days, Veal is counting the days before pitchers and catchers report. It seems to be taking longer than in the past.
"I've got the Spring Training baseball itch right now -- football is over," he said.
It would be nice if the Veal brothers only had sports to think about. But there are some personal matters to clear up involving his father. A trust fund has been set up for the boys because their parents apparently did not have life insurance, and a line of credit was taken out on the family home.
Fans who would like to join the Cubs in helping the Veals can send checks payable to the Donnie and Devin Veal Trust Fund, Smith Barney/Citigroup, 701 Market Street, Suite 1500, St. Louis, MO 63101, Attn: Brad Rippelmeyer. The money won't bring his parents back, but it will relieve some of the financial burden.
Veal has taken a positive approach.
"When my mom passed, it was a rough time, and I ended up playing and had a pretty good year and everything worked out," he said. "I have no doubt I can repeat that. I've got two angels on my side now."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.