PHILADELPHIA -- Brad Brink was sitting in the manager's office in a minor-league ballpark in Richmond, Va. And they were telling him that even the craziest dreams sometimes come true.
They were telling him he was going to the big leagues. And Brad Brink was having trouble believing those words were real.
It had been six years since the Philadelphia Phillies made him their No. 1 pick in the amateur draft. It had been four years since he first felt the pain in his right shoulder that ripped through him like a lightning bolt.
It had been three years since he came out of the operating room and heard the voices that said he probably never would pitch again. It had been one year since he found his way back to the pitcher's mound after two years of sitting home, going nuts.
And now, after all that, at age 27, they were telling him he was going to the big leagues, into the Phillies' rotation to replace the injured Tommy Greene. And all Brad Brink could do was think back on the long, painful, lonely trail that had brought him to this point.
"I thought about everything I went through -- all the rehabbing, all the work," Brink said Wednesday night, wearing a smile as wide as the airplane he would ride to Philadelphia. "People used to ask me a lot why I did it. Well, this is the reason -- just to have the chance someday to do this."
There have been many great stories over the years of men who made improbable escapes from the minor-league dungeon. But it will be hard to top this one -- the astounding tale of a guy who essentially had three precious years stolen out of the prime of his career and still refused to give up.
"Of all the stories like this I've been associated with, this is the topper," said Scranton/Wilkes-Barre manager Lee Elia, a man in his 34th season in professional baseball. "You're talking about a kid who had major, major surgery, a guy who was probably destined never to pitch again. And he just beat the odds because of great, great desire and an outstanding work ethic. I've never seen anybody work so hard."
How much physical agony did Brad Brink have to overcome? Roll the clock back six years.
Going into Brad Brink's final season at Southern Cal, it was a tossup who would be the first college pitcher picked in the draft Brink or Greg Swindell.
But by June, Brink had been so overused at USC, he was still hanging around seven picks into the first round. So the Phillies decided to take a big chance and select him.
They now suspect he had a partial tear of the rotator cuff even then. But he was able to pitch through all of the 1987 season and half of the '88 season until the pain got too much to bear. And from then until this spring, hardly anyone believed that Brad Brink could ever make it up there to big-league heaven except Brink himself.
"I can still remember in '88, when I was close to going up, and then I broke down," Brink said. "And I watched them call Marvin Freeman up. And then it was everybody who was behind me going up. That was really tough.
"And the two years I sat at home were just unbelievable. You'd turn on the TV to watch a game, and it would just drive you crazy because you knew you should be there. It was just hard to believe it could be taken away from you like that."
But the lowest point of all came in May 1989, when he learned just what a mess that right shoulder of his really was. Until then, he'd been hoping it was just some minor ache he could cure with rest. Then he found out it was a complete tear of the rotator cuff and a dislocated shoulder -- the daily double of disaster.