By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
In college, he played third base and hit like Mike Schmidt, but as a pro, thanks to his golden arm and hard sinker, he pitched like Mike Timlin.
But the fact that Bob File played in the major leagues at all is almost a miracle.
Born in 1977 and raised in Mayfair, a rough part of Northeast Philadelphia, he didn’t have access to – nor could his family afford – elite baseball programs. The future Blue Jay honed his skills on ragged diamonds on teams coached by whatever parents could volunteer their time.
“Back then for me, it was just moms and dads that coached and taught whatever they knew,” recalled the now 43-year-old File, who works as a principal solutions consultant for ERT, a global data and technology company that assists in clinical trials. “It was pretty rough, but it turned out to be a good thing because it made me work harder for everything.”
Fortunately for File, his aunt Helen bought him a baseball glove when he was four, and while his Little League coaches would never be mistaken for big league scouts, they did recognize a good arm when they saw one and File became a fixture at either shortstop or on the mound.
“I pitched when I was younger, but then when I got to high school (Father Judge High School), my baseball coach said, ‘You can play shortstop or pitch but not both.’ And I wanted to hit. So I never pitched an inning in high school,” said File.
A hardcore Philadelphia Phillies fan when he was growing up, File was a late bloomer, so he garnered little interest from Division 1 colleges and he ended up accepting an academic scholarship (and a small baseball scholarship) to the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now Thomas Jefferson University) and enrolled in their computer science program. In college, he evolved into a hard-hitting third baseman.
But during his junior year, his team needed pitching help and his coach, Don Flynn, began using him to close games and he was so good on the mound that in his senior season he started a handful of contests.
But File still considered himself a hitter first — and rightfully so. In his senior season, he led all NCAA Div. II hitters with a .542 batting average and his 17 home runs and 68 RBIs established single-season school records. For his efforts, he was named New York Collegiate Athletic Conference (NYCAC) Player of the Year.
File recalls a doubleheader in his senior season that altered the course of his baseball career.
“There were a lot of scouts there and they were mostly there to see me play third base, but I was pitching the second game and ended up throwing a complete game,” remembered File.
After that second contest, Toronto Blue Jays scout Ben McLure approached him and told him he was throwing 94 mph.
“I didn’t know I threw that hard,” said File.
However, as the MLB draft approached, File was not certain he was going to be selected. He had talked with teams – including the Blue Jays – but no club had assured him they would take him.
“I just remember sitting at home on draft day and waiting for the phone call,” said File.
And that call eventually came from McLure, who told him that the Blue Jays had chosen him in the 19th round (561st overall).
“When I got drafted, the draft board had me down as a third baseman,” said File. “But when Ben McLure came to my house and I signed the contract, he said, ‘You’re probably going to pitch.'”
File received a $4,000 signing bonus and reported to the Blue Jays’ Rookie-Ball affiliate in Medicine Hat, Alta., where he was used as a relief pitcher. This was a difficult adjustment for a player who had primarily been a power hitting infielder.
“At first, I was losing my mind and I was like, this is terrible,” said File of being a relief pitcher.
But his attitude changed after his first appearance. File recalls being summoned to pitch in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ affiliate in Great Falls, Mont. The then 21-year-old right-hander proceeded to strike out eight of the nine batters he faced. From there, he became the club’s closer and finished that season with 16 saves and a 1.41 ERA in 28 games.
But the cerebral File, who was way ahead of the curve when it came to mental training, was not satisfied. Whether he was in college or on the mound, he was a student at heart and he wanted to learn more about pitching, so he spent much of that off-season picking the brains of experts and reading books like The Mental ABC’s of Pitching by Harvey Dorfman and Nolan Ryan’s Pitching Bible.
“I wanted to make [class-A Advanced] Dunedin out of spring training the next year. That was my goal,” said File. “I knew that to become a legitimate threat to eventually play in the big leagues that I needed to jump a level. And I went to spring training and I made the Dunedin team.”
And it was with Dunedin that he would first connect with Rocket Wheeler, who would become one of his most influential and supportive coaches. Wheeler, who was managing the club, gave the File the opportunity to close games and the young righty responded by not allowing a run in his first 17 appearances.
“As a 19th round pick, I knew I couldn’t just be average to get noticed,” said File. “I had to make the numbers pop and make people say, ‘Who is this guy?'”
And he did just that with Dunedin, completing the campaign with 26 saves and a 2.21 ERA. He also struck out the side in both innings he pitched in the Florida State League All-Star Game.
His performance earned him a promotion to double-A Knoxville in 2000 and in a fortuitous turn of events, Wheeler was promoted with him. Once again, Wheeler employed File as his closer and the hard-throwing right-hander responded by recording 20 saves by mid-season and was chosen to pitch in the Southern League All-Star Game. In that showcase, he was dominant, fanning two batters and recording the save in his inning of work.
“That put me on the map in Toronto,” said File. “That game was on TV and the Blue Jays saw me and then I got promoted to triple-A shortly after.”
About a week into his tenure with the triple-A Syracuse SkyChiefs, File found himself in the closer’s role again after Matt Dewitt was hit by a line drive and suffered a broken leg. File capitalized on his opportunity and registered a 0.93 ERA and eight saves in 20 appearances.
That performance boosted his confidence heading into spring training and new Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez was impressed with the 24-year-old and decided to bring him north with the club. The rookie right-hander had to wait until the 12th game of the season to make his major league debut.
On April 14, with the Blue Jays trailing the Kansas City Royals 4-1 in the top of the ninth inning with two Royals out at the SkyDome, File was summoned from the bullpen to face catcher Hector Ortiz.
“I was fine warming up and I was fine running to the mound, but when I was on the mound – I’ll never forget it – I couldn’t feel my feet,” said File. “I just remember throwing fastballs and sinkers in on Hector Ortiz.”
He ultimately got Ortiz to ground out to shortstop Alex Gonzalez. The Blue Jays then rallied for four runs in the bottom of the inning to beat the Royals 5-4 and File picked up the win.
But File says his second appearance five days later against the New York Yankees was more memorable.
“That game went into extra innings [tied 5-5] and I remember being the last one used in the bullpen and that’s when my competitive spirit took over and I was annoyed because I wanted to get into the game,” recalled File. “And they started warming up Steve Parris who was a starting pitcher and so I said to the bullpen coach, ‘What’s going on here?’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s the Yankees and we don’t want to put you in in this situation.” And I was like, ‘That’s B.S. I’m fine.’ So I warmed up and I got in the game in the 14th inning. And when I got into the game, I was my mad. I had no nerves at all.”
That state of mind helped him navigate a lineup of legendary hitters that included Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Jorge Posada, Alfonso Soriano and David Justice. File retired the Yankees with relative ease in his first two innings. He was then asked to go out for a third inning and he held the Bombers off the scoreboard again. With virtually no options left in their pen, File was asked to return to the hill in the 17th inning – his fourth inning of work.
“I got two quick outs that inning, literally on four pitches and then Chuck Knoblauch came up, I got ahead of Knoblauch 0-2,” he said. “And at this point my calf was cramping because I wasn’t used to pitching more than an inning and a half. And after I had him 0-2, I threw four straight balls and walked him and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Jeter then singled to left advancing Knoblauch to second, forcing File to face O’Neill a second time. The young right-hander had struck out the veteran in the 15th inning, but he was not used to facing the same batter twice in a game.
“So I tried a back door [breaking pitch] and he just punched a little bouncer through the left side and it scored Knoblauch,” said File.
The Blue Jays lost 6-5. And though File was saddled with a tough-luck loss, he earned the respect of his manager by gutting out four innings and that helped secure him a spot in the bullpen for the rest of the season.
In fact, File emerged as one of the club’s most reliable relievers. He didn’t allow a home run in his first 42 innings until Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen took him deep in the eighth inning on July 13 at Veterans Stadium in front of about 500 of File’s family members and friends that were cheering him on in his hometown.
File made the game even more memorable when he plunked the next batter Travis Lee and was immediately ejected — it was his first ejection from a baseball game in his life.
“It was crazy, getting booed off the field in Philadelphia,” said File. “It was quite a memory because just pitching in that stadium was a dream.”
File finished his rookie campaign with a tidy 3.27 ERA in 60 appearances, which were the most by any American League rookie pitcher in 2001. He was also voted the Blue Jays Rookie of the Year.
Unfortunately, the injury bug bit him in his sophomore campaign. He missed time with rib and oblique injuries and he only toed the rubber in five big league games. And the following year was even worse. He hurt his shoulder in spring training and was forced to undergo surgery.
“It was tough because I had never had surgery before and the recovery time was quite long and I kept trying to rush it,” he said.
File did all kinds of research about how to best rehab his shoulder and to his credit, he bounced back to post a 4.81 ERA in 24 games for the Blue Jays in 2004, but his shoulder never fully recovered.
“When I came back, I was a completely different pitcher,” he said. “I literally had to learn how to pitch again because I didn’t have a 94-mph sinker anymore. I was throwing 89 to 91.”
After that season, File parted ways with the Blue Jays and signed a minor league deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. He had a decent spring with the Cards and was in contention for the final spot in their bullpen before he herniated three discs in his back while lifting weights.
The Cards told him he could rehab with them, but they weren’t going to pay him, so he asked for his release and attempted to rehab at home. But while his back woes lingered, he began looking for work outside of baseball and ended up landing a job in pharmaceutical sales.
He also started conducting pitching lessons on the side and took the job as pitching coach at La Salle University, where they also had a Information Technology Leadership Master’s program.
“I made a deal that if they paid for my classes while I coached that I would do it,” explained File.
After obtaining his Master’s, he worked for a company called Veeva, a Silicon Valley based tech company that provides software to pharmaceutical companies, for about five years.
He’s now a principal solutions consultant for ERT, a global data and technology company that assists in clinical trials. He works out of his home in Southern New Jersey.
In December, he and his wife, Jessica, had their first child, a beautiful baby girl named Isabella.
“She has been an absolute joy and also a challenge,” said File, with a chuckle.
The ex-Jay hasn’t been back to Toronto in recent years, but he has maintained contact with a number of his former teammates, including Scott Cassidy, Jeff Frye, Brian Bowles and Kelvim Escobar.
“The first five years out of baseball were tough, but now they’re all great memories,” said File. “Looking back on it, it was great.”