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From Cherry Field to Chase Field: Tom Wilhelmsen's comeback story

Posted at 5:25 PM, Apr 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-27 08:46:31-04
Tom Wilhelmsen's unlikely comeback story is one to be told over a beer in Tucson, which is where his story begins.
A Diamondbacks fan during the team's 2001 World Series win, Wilhelmsen was as a star pitcher for the Tucson High Badgers, who were coached at the time by his father. Known as a free spirit, Wilhelmsen was a 2002 7th round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers.
"When I was drafted, it was, 'this is what I want to do, so perfect, thank you,' and we started playing ball," said Wilhelmsen.
The following season, Wilhelmsen was in Wisconsin, pitching for the minor league Beloit Snappers. He was having a solid season, thanks to a mid ninety mile and hour fastball. However, Wilhelmsmen failed two tests for marijuana, and the Milwaukee Brewers suspended him for the 2004 season.
"You've got to show up on time, do as you're told, and the consequences are a little more severe than high school," said Wilhelmsen.
Then came Wilhelmsen's curve ball. He decided to quit baseball all together.
"There is a level of respect that you have to have and appreciate," said Wilhelmsen. "and, I just didn't feel that I was really one hundred percent into this craft, and I was aware of it, and that's why I left."
Needing a job, Wilhelmsen returned to Tucson, and looked for work as a bartender at a Tiki Bar called the Hut. At the time, it was managed by Scott Mencke and Doug Finical, who now work at Fini's Landing.
"We saw Tom when life was kicking him around a little," said Mencke. "The only job he had listed on his application was 'milwaukee Brewers,; and it said 'pitcher.'
"I popped in one day, and said I've been bartending a little bit, and are you looking for people, and sure enough they were," said Wilhelmsen.
"He walked in, and there was something about his personality, said Mencke. "he's so engaging."
Instead of pitching fastballs, Wilhelmsen was serving up pitchers of beer. He was also connecting with The Hut's customers.
"I like to meet people," said Wilhelmsen. "I like culture. And, that's something else you get at the bar. The bar doesn't really discriminate, so you have people of all walks coming in. So, you meet a lot of crazy characters. It was a lot of fun."
"It turned out he was a fantastic bartender," said Mencke. "He brings people up and makes them happy and everybody rides the Tom train."
"The relief pitcher of the bar who came in and made the save."
Willhelmsen spent time travelling, and became serious with his now wife. But then one day, five years later, he was watching a Major League Game involving former minor league competitors.
"I remember his telling me, watching an MLB game, smoking a cigarette, I can tool that guy," said Mencke. "He asked, 'What's going on here?' He took another drag on the cigarette, walked out, put it out, and to my knowledge hasn't had a cigarette since."
"I called up my father and asked him to play catch, and that progressed into long toss, to four days a week, to an open tryout for an independent team," said Wilhelmsen.
That team was the Tucson Toros. And, after fewer than two seasons in the minor leagues, Wilhelmsen made his major league debut as a Seattle Mariner. He ended up spending five seasons while recording sixty saves with Mariners.
"There's Tom, a couple of  years removed from bartending at this point and we're watching him in the off-season in his Mariners uniform ripping it up, said," Mencke.
"Same old guy," added Finical.
But, after a rough 2016, the Mariners released him. Wilhelmsen was a free agent and wanted to again come home, this time to pitch.
"I called my agent and said I want to be in Arizona," said Wilhelmsen. "I want to be a Dback."
With his comeback now at full circle, Tom Wilhelmsen earned a spot in Diamondbacks manager Torey Luvullo's bullpen.
"It feels really good to wear the Diamondbacks uniform," said Wilhelmsen. "I felt it on opening day, sellout crowd, star spangled banner, the jets flying over, it really sunk in."
"It's a great story," said Luvullo. "And, it's really a story of perseverance. A story of not giving up on your dream and understanding that sometimes you put things on hold to refocus and he deserves a lot of credit for doing it so quickly."
"If everything went as planned, life would be pretty darn boring, you know," added Wilhelmsen.