Facial hair endearing Collmenter to fans

Fans love Collmenter's mustache

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Mustaches have a long history in the Major Leagues. Rollie Fingers and the Oakland A's of the 1970s were defined, outside of their success, by their facial hair. This week, the American Mustache Institute backed Jason Giambi's campaign to make the All-Star Game. In South Bend, fans of the Silver Hawks have a new mustache to support in pitcher Josh Collmenter.

The Silver Hawks began the season as the Minor Leagues' worst team, losing their first nine games and going 7-18 in April. Collmenter had struggled personally, ending the opening month with a 5.63 ERA. That's when his teammates began calling for the return of Collmenter's facial hair. While the 6-foot-5 right-hander is usually reserved, he's a man waiting to open up about his talents in growing a mustache.

"We were struggling a month in and some guys said you should grow one out," Collmenter said. "I told them I'll keep it the whole year and not shave it."

In not shaving, Collmenter has become the team's most recognizable face -- a face the Silver Hawks plan on honoring. On July 23, the team will host Josh Collmenter Mustache Appreciation Night, at which fans will receive free tickets if they arrive with a Collmenter-esque mustache. It's certainly clear that the Homer, Mich., native has helped uniting players and their community.

"I love it here, it's a good place to play. I'm comfortable with the coaching staff and the community," Collmenter said. "I won't [shave] anytime soon with the Mustache Night coming up."

It's no surprise that Collmenter fits in his current surroundings -- he is Midwestern born and bred. Homer is 30 minutes from the Indiana border and two hours from South Bend. It's a small farming community, with two blocks and one stop light downtown. Collmenter can, and does, recite each place of business along the two blocks.

It's also close enough that his parents have been able to make nearly every one of Collmenter's eight home starts, as well as starts he's made on the road against Lansing and Great Lakes.

"It's definitely a nice comfort zone," he said. "My mom definitely likes having me at home."

In fact, while Collmenter spent Spring Training hoping to earn an assignment to Class A Advanced Visalia in the California League, he felt some dissent on the home front.

"When I had the two options, my mom wanted me to stay close, but the other members of my family said they could come out to California," he said.

The assignment to South Bend sent Collmenter back to the Midwest, where he's been playing baseball every spring since childhood. The right-hander insists that's not by design; in fact, he had hoped to attend college in Florida or California. The offers never came, even when he led his small high school to a Michigan state championship. Instead, Collmenter attended Central Michigan University, the only school that didn't have a problem with Collmenter's unorthdox, extreme over-the-top delivery.

"When I got to college, my pitching coach didn't want to change me because he liked the deception," he said. "He figured I'd have a really good changeup coming over the top because it's really hard to see the arm speed. The deception is a big part of me being as successful as I have."

In three years with the Chippewas, he won 24 games and posted a 2.63 ERA in 46 appearances.

"It was definitely rewarding to go down and play some of the schools in Florida and prove I could have success," Collmenter said. "To have success against them, it builds your confidence."

The changeup Collmenter learned at Central Michigan has become his trademark on the mound. He cites it as the biggest reason that left-handed hitters are batting .213 against him this year. And it's the pitch he uses most often with two strikes. It's also a pitch he throws more than ever since opponents no longer use aluminum bats.

"You see pitches that you might have made in college that could have been hit out of the park; it kind of eliminates some of that. It's not as much danger," he said. "With a wood bat, if they don't get a lot of barrel on it you can get weak fly or a groundout."

His mastery of the pitch is what Collmenter cites for his recent success. He has seen his ERA drop in every start since May 6, down nearly 50 percent from 6.43 to 3.25. Since the Midwest League All-Star Game, Collmenter has won all four of his starts, allowing nine hits over 23 1/3 innings. He pitched seven hitless innings on July 4 against Lansing.

All of this may be pushing the Diamondbacks to issue Collmenter a new challenge. It's not difficult to see a promotion in his future, but he and the Silver Hawks assume they'll wait until after July 23. His teammates and fans have become too connected to that mustache.

"I think they kind of enjoy it to see if I'll grow it out that long" Collmenter said. "I don't know if it has any superstitious powers, so we'll see how superstitious it is during playoff time."

Bryan Smith is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.