One autumn afternoon in 2010, Steve Delabar entered a classroom full of second-graders, who sat on a carpeted floor waiting for "the tall guy."
Delabar tucked his 6-foot-4 figure into a tiny chair constructed to fit the frame of a typical 7-year-old. Uncomfortably crouched with his knees protruding above his head, he read the children a book about outer space.
Every few breaths, a student interrupted Delabar to request the definition of a particular word. On each occasion, he struggled to manufacture an explanation suitable for the young minds before him.
For a substitute teacher braving his first week on the job, story time proved to be a much larger hurdle than Delabar ever anticipated.
"I started sweating and getting nervous," Delabar said. "All these kids are looking at me for all this knowledge, and I was kind of buckling."
No longer does Delabar cave to such pressure.
This season, the Blue Jays reliever has fashioned a 1.76 ERA through 36 appearances, a mark so lauded that the 29-year-old -- after enduring Tommy John surgery, a fractured pitching elbow and nearly a year as a substitute teacher -- has worked his way to the precipice of an All-Star Game nod.
"It's a great story, an inspirational story," said Toronto southpaw Mark Buehrle. "The way he's pitching, he's earned it."
Delabar is one of five American League candidates for the 2013 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by freecreditscore.com, which is a fan ballot to determine the final roster spot at Tuesday's Midsummer Classic at Citi Field. Delabar has received plenty of support in his battle against Boston's Koji Uehara, the Yankees' David Robertson, Texas' Tanner Scheppers and Detroit's Joaquin Benoit.
Friends and family from Elizabethtown, Ky., where he taught and coached baseball, have placed so many votes for the right-hander that their "fingers are bleeding," Delabar said. Toronto skipper John Gibbons said Tuesday that he spent the afternoon "firing away" at the balloting.
Delabar admitted the entire circumstance remains a bit surreal. After all, three years ago, he had all but abandoned his dream of pitching in the big leagues when he fractured his elbow while throwing a pitch for the Brockton Rox of the independent Can-Am League.
Delabar returned to school to pursue a teaching degree. He served as a substitute on days he didn't have class and taught everything from second grade to high school. He had come to accept a potential career as a gym teacher and a baseball coach.
AL CANDIDATES BY THE NUMBERS
"That was the plan," Delabar said. "And I was fine. I had not turned the page on my baseball career, but I knew from the injury that it would be tough to get it back. I thought probably independent ball at best."
So Delabar wandered the hallways at John Hardin High School, where students and faculty knew him as the "big guy" who coached baseball and even used to play the sport at the Minor League level. Kids welcomed him into their classroom with a greeting of "The tall guy is here!"
The learning curve for Delabar extended beyond the book about planets and moons. He said it took time for him to locate a satisfying medium between a strict and a laid back teaching persona. It didn't help when the kids responded in a surprising manner.
"I had to raise my voice a few times," Delabar said. "But then they're like, 'Whoa, that was really loud! Do it again!'"
Delabar learned to choose his battles.
"You have to get out there and work and know how the class works," he said. "You go to college and they say, 'This is how you do it.' No, no. You don't learn it until you get out there."
That principle also applies to the hurler's career on the mound.
Delabar didn't know how he would fare once he signed with the Mariners in 2011. He had never pitched above Class A, and the smattering of scars across his right elbow would suggest that his arm couldn't bear much more stress.
Yet here he is, toeing the rubber at Progressive Field in Cleveland, with a raucous cluster of Blue Jays fans seated behind the visitors' dugout chanting "Raise The Bar," the slogan the organization selected for his All-Star Game campaign.
Sitting in that second-grade classroom three years ago, Delabar couldn't even imagine this type of spotlight. This time, he doesn't plan to submit to the pressure.
"It's a pretty awesome story," said Blue Jays infielder Mark DeRosa. "Hopefully he gets the chance to go to the All-Star Game. He's deserving."
Now in its 12th year, the 2013 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by freecreditscore.com gives baseball fans around the world the opportunity to select the final player on each All-Star team. Balloting began immediately following Saturday's Major League All-Star Selection Show presented by Taco Bell and continues until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. The winners will be revealed on MLB.com shortly thereafter.
There will be an extra treat for fans who participate in the Final Vote online. If you are not a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you are eligible to receive a 14-day free trial of MLB.TV from July 12-26. If you are a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you will receive a 15-percent discount to the MLB.com Shop. MLB.com will send an email on July 12 to all Final Vote voters with instructions on how to redeem the applicable offer.
Mobile voting in the U.S. and Canada is open to everyone. In the U.S., to receive the 2013 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by freecreditscore.com mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 89269. To vote for a specific player, simply text message your choice using the codes below to 89269 (Example: Text "A1" to vote for Joaquin Benoit). In Canada, fans should text their choices to 101010. Standard message and data rates may apply. To vote for your player via text message, use the codes below.
A1 - Joaquin Benoit, Detroit
A2 - Steve Delabar, Toronto
A3 - David Robertson, New York Yankees
A4 - Tanner Scheppers, Texas
A5 - Koji Uehara, Boston
N1 - Ian Desmond, Washington
N2 - Freddie Freeman, Atlanta
N3 - Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles
N4 - Hunter Pence, San Francisco
N5 - Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles
For the second consecutive year, the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by freecreditscore.com (#FinalVote) will include a social balloting element as Twitter support from the candidates' fans over the last six hours of balloting will count toward their final vote totals. From 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, any tweet that includes a designated player hashtag will be tabulated as part of the overall vote total used to determine the AL and NL winners. Fans may follow @MLB on the popular social networking service for the latest standings updates in advance of the 4 p.m. ET balloting deadline.
The fun doesn't end there, however. Fans, having already decided the starters and final player on each team, once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2013 All-Star Game MVP Vote on MLB.com during the All-Star Game.
The 84th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.