After long road, DiFelice gets closer to big leagues

Matt DiFelice honestly regrets giving up his baseball career so soon in college. But his dream of one day seeing his last name stitched across the back of a major league jersey still lives on.

Through his younger brother, Mark.

Just 12 short months ago, Mark DiFelice was pitching in the Atlantic League for the Camden Riversharks. Now the 30-year-old righthander, who has spent the last 10 years ping-ponging among teams in the minors, finds himself with one foot on the edge of a major league mound.

DiFelice, who pitches for Nashville, the Triple A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, won his first game for the Sounds last night, pitching 7 scoreless innings and allowing four hits, striking out eight and walking one in a 6-1 win over the Fresno Grizzlies. He has pitched 19 innings at Nashville with a 1.42 earned run average.

Before being promoted, he was 6-1 with a 1.62 ERA in 26 games at Double A Huntsville.

"It's kind of left a huge thorn in my side because I know I can get there," Mark DiFelice said. "It sort of drives me a little bit more to make it."

That will also is fueled by Matt. Born only 16 months apart, they were star pitchers at Haverford High. As a junior in 1993, Mark went 9-2 with a 1.58 earned run average in leading his school to the Central League title. The following season, as some pro scouts began to eye him, he went 8-1 with an 0.83 ERA, capturing another league title.

Matt, who earned MVP honors in the Central League in 1993, received a partial scholarship to Penn State. After redshirting his freshman season at PSU, he decided to transfer and join Mark at Western Carolina. Matt says after the transfer his interest in baseball was no longer there. Matt noticed how much more dedicated Mark was in his approach to the game and knew his brother would be the one to make it.

"It has nothing to do with me now, this is all about him," said Matt, who lives in Garnet Valley and works as an analytical salesman. "In a sense we are kind of living this dream together but at the end of the day he made this possible. I just want him to get there."

The Colorado Rockies selected DiFelice in the 15th round of the 1998 draft following his senior season at Western Carolina, where he finished as the all-time career win leader in the Southern Conference with a 34-13 mark. Still, he never thought it would take him 10 years to get to the highest level. But just as times had begun to get frustrating and DiFelice was ready to call it quits, the rejuvenation of his career was just beginning.

He had a short stint in the Washington system in 2005, where he said he didn't get many opportunities to pitch at Triple A New Orleans because the team's major league pitchers were completing rehab assignments. DiFelice was released by the Nationals that June. Being released wasn't anything new to him, in fact it might have been the best thing. DiFelice, a firm believer in things happening for a reason, signed with the Somerset Patriots, of the Atlantic League. While there he not only regained his fastball and his confidence on the mound, as well.

DiFelice spent the next winter playing baseball in Mexico. There, his fortunes changed again. He met pitching coach Stan Kyles, who now serves in the same capacity with the Sounds, and was introduced to his best pitch today - the cutter.

"Had it not been for Kyles I wouldn't be here today," DiFelice said. "He gave me a new breath in my career and believed in me and I'm just trying to take advantage of all the opportunities I can get."

For now, DiFelice just wants to take it one day at a time and let his work on the mound speak for itself.

"He knows he can get up there and everyone else knows, too," Matt said. "I look at some of these pitchers the Phillies have and think to myself there is no way my brother can't pitch in the majors right now."

For Mark, the team he hopefully will make his major league debut with is irrelevant at this point. While he tries his hardest not to look too far ahead, the only thing comparable to pulling a big-league jersey over his head he says would be the birth of his 3-year-old daughter, Mia.

"I'll probably cry, honestly," DiFelice said. "I mean it's been 10 years. I would have to think I built up a lot of emotion in that time. Wouldn't you?" *