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For Melville, trekking familiar ground

Isotopes starting pitcher Tim Melville warms up before Albuquerque’s game against Reno on Friday. He started the year with an independent team in the Atlantic League. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Overcoming tough obstacles is nothing new for Tim Melville.

A starting pitcher for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Melville is trying to make the unlikely jump from independent baseball to the major leagues in a single season.

Why not? He’s done it before.

The 29-year-old right-hander is off to a promising start with the Colorado Rockies organization. He opened 2019 with the independent Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks, signed with the Rockies as a free agent on May 3 and has since gone 3-1 with a team-best 3.00 earned-run average in five starts with the ‘Topes.

Melville completed a similar trek in 2017, starting in Long Island and advancing to the majors with the Minnesota Twins.

“The game is the same,” Melville said. “I’ve had great experiences in indy ball.”

Melville has pitched briefly with Cincinnati, the Twins and San Diego over the past four seasons and he’d love to earn another shot with the Rockies. But Melville feels fortunate to be playing professional baseball at all.

Melville was born with a condition called pectus excavatum, an abnormality of the rib cage. His sternum was sunken into his chest, pressing against his heart and preventing his lungs from expanding fully. The condition can give the appearance of a sunken chest. In Melville’s case it caused him to tire quickly when swimming or playing basketball or baseball. Not ideal for an active, athletic youngster.

His family initially thought Melville suffered from asthma, but his mother, Valerie, later learned more about his condition. She read an article about a then-groundbreaking operation called the Nuss Procedure to correct pectus excavatum.

The procedure required inserting an inch-thick, curved titanium bar into the 10-year-old Melville’s chest through an incision in the side of his rib cage. The bar was then flipped to pop out his sternum. It was held in place by titanium stabilizers and removed roughly 18 months later.

It was not a pleasant experience, Melville recalled.

“It was painful at first,” he said. “Then I was on non-activity for six months and no contact sports for about another year.”

That said, Melville does not regret having the procedure – not for a second. Once recovered he had far greater stamina and even enjoyed some new experiences.

“I could scoot my chair up to the table and hit my chest,” Melville joked. “Anything was possible.”

Melville became a standout high school athlete and signed with Kansas City after being drafted in 2008. His rise through the minors was slowed by Tommy John surgery in 2012, but Melville pushed through rehab as he has other obstacles.

Considering his path to get here, pitching in notoriously hitter-friendly Albuquerque is no big deal, Melville said.

“I just look at it as a challenge,” he said. “I’ve tried to pick the brains over everyone I know who’s pitched here, but on game days I just go pitch. I’m excited to be here and really want to help any way I can.”

The same is true off the field. Melville is a strong advocate for the procedure that helped him overcome pectus excavatum and helps others with the condition.

“Every case is different,” he said. “There are several guys in the major leagues who have it, some can play with it and some had surgery. But I definitely wouldn’t have played pro baseball without the procedure. I’m happy to talk about it or answer questions.”

Melville can be contacted via message on Facebook.

NOTES: Melville, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., said he had only driven through Albuquerque prior to this season. But he’s been teammates with Duke City natives Jordan Pacheco, Mitch Garver and former UNM pitcher Cole White.

“I love the whole Southwest vibe, and Pacheco told me the good places to eat,” Melville said. “I’m very comfortable here.”

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