No one in Major League baseball looks up to Tim Collins. He is, in his own words, "maybe 5-7" which, given half an inch one way or another, makes him the smallest active big leaguer.
That he has gotten this far -- a place in the Royals bullpen -- is a matter of perseverance. That he got to play professional baseball at all is a matter of timing and good fortune.
"Being a left-hander helps," Collins said. "If I was right-handed, I might not have had the same opportunity, but there's always a spot for a lefty."
He got his chance because a Major League general manager from his hometown of Worcester, Mass., had come to a game to see someone else pitch.
"Obviously, my size is something to overcome, but it's something that's never set me back," Collins said. Because of my size I've had to work harder than anybody else. A guy my size that doesn't work that hard, there's really no use for him.
"There's no doubt that scouts look for guys 6-foot-4, tall, lanky pitchers. That's something I knew and had to deal with, and I wasn't going to let it bother me."
It didn't concern Ned Yost when the Royals manager saw Collins in Spring Training.
"Short guys don't bother me a bit," he said. "Short guys got a lot of heart. They've gotten to this level for a reason."
Collins pitched for Worcester Tech, which went 91-5 in his four high school seasons. As a senior he went 7-0 (including a no-hitter), giving up just 10 hits in 75 innings with 165 strikeouts.
But he was 5-foot-5 and 120 pounds then with a fastball in the mid-80s. No pro scouts came calling in the summer of 2007. He planned to enroll at Community College of Rhode Island and hope he pitched well enough to be noticed by a Division I school.
J.P. Ricciardi, then the Blue Jays' general manager and now in the Mets' front office, had decided to take in an American Legion game that summer. He wanted to check out 6-foot-7, 220-pound southpaw Keith Landers, now at the University of Louisville.
"He ended up not throwing," Collins said. "I was actually supposed to start that game, but I'd relieved a couple of games before." He pitched the final four innings, faced 12 batters, and struck out all of them.
"J.P. liked what he saw and told my Legion coach he wanted to set up a bullpen session a couple of days later. A couple of days after that, I was going to rookie ball," Collins said.
Ricciardi offered him a Minor League contract with a $10,000 bonus.
"It's funny, it wasn't even a conversation about money," Collins said. "It was, 'This is what we're going to give you. If you want it, good' and I said, 'Y'know what? I'd play for free.'"
Collins spent the 2007-09 seasons in the Blue Jays' organization, then was traded on July 14, 2010, to the Braves. Seventeen days later Atlanta shipped him to the Royals, where he spent the rest of the year at Triple-A Omaha.
"I looked at the trades positively," he said. "Some people might take it as, 'Teams are trying to get rid of me,' but I looked at it as, 'There are teams out there trying to get me.'"
In four Minor League seasons he added 50 pounds and "maybe" two inches, developed an 81-mph changeup and 75-mph, fall-off-the-table curve and got his heater up to 95 mph thanks to rigorous offseason workouts.
He made his Major League debut with a scoreless inning on Opening Day and got his first win with five strikeouts in three shutout innings.
Collins works from the third base side of the rubber, turns his back to the plate to hide the ball during his windup, kicks high and throws with a high arm arc that produces a downward path.
"When he stands on the mound," Yost said, "he throws like he's 6-4 in terms of his makeup and competitiveness."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.