Remembering 2013: “My first day in the big leagues”
The dreaded off-season…continues. But fear not, despite news being a little slower this time of year, we have plenty of content to keep you occupied here at BlogToBlogChamps. Each Monday, we’ll publish a feature from the 2013 York Revolutionary Times, the official game day magazine of the York Revolution for you to re-enjoy, or read for the first time in case you missed it at the ballpark. For our final installment of the off-season, Ron Gardner spoke with each Revolution player who had played in the Majors as last season ended, and they each reminisced about their first day in the show.
By Ron Gardner
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when a young man first dreams about playing in the big leagues.
Perhaps it was when he received his first baseball glove or plastic wiffle ball bat. Or when he got his first Little League hit or struck out his first batter. Maybe it was when he made the varsity team in high school or when a college coach first said he was good enough to keep playing at the next level. But in every case, making it to the Major Leagues involves years of brutally hard work on dusty, scorching hot baseball diamonds and sweaty weight rooms and commitment measured not just in countless swings and throws, but also injuries and surgeries. For nearly every player who makes it to “The Show,” it has truly been a lifetime effort. Eight current members of the Revolution ultimately succeeded in making their Major League dreams come true. The memories of that special day when each player made his big league debut remain truly powerful and compelling years later and for most, simply cannot be shared without a broad smile.
Anthony Slama (Minnesota Twins, MLB debut: 7/21/10)
Anthony Slama didn’t have much time to think about his big league debut. After getting a late-night call that the Twins wanted him in Minneapolis for a game against the Cleveland Indians that evening, he spent most of the next day just trying to get from Rochester, NY to Target Field in Minnesota. “I got a call at 2:30 in the morning on Friday night, it woke me up out of bed, saying that I was going to get called up,” Slama said. “I was excited, of course. I told my wife, who was my girlfriend at that time, she packed everything up and my flight was at 7 a.m. the next day. We got a little bit of sleep and then got to the airport and I was ready to get on the plane, checked in and (found out) they didn’t have my flight.” It turned out that Slama was mistakenly booked for 7 a.m. on Sunday, not Saturday. With no other seats available and desperate not to miss his Major League debut, Slama had no choice other than to take his girlfriend’s seat on a different flight at 11 a.m. in hopes of making it by game time. “I barely made it,” Slama said. “I made it (in) at 5:30 (and) I was rushing through the airport trying to get to the stadium.” It turned out to be a very good thing that he did, as Slama was called upon to pitch the ninth inning that night, with the Twins leading 6-0. “The only thing I remember was giving up a base hit to my first batter (Matt LaPorta), but our second baseman (Orlando Hudson) came over and gave me the ball and put his ear to my chest to see how loud my heart was beating,” Slama said. “He said “Welcome to the big leagues, now get your three outs.’ That kind of made me laugh a little bit and calm down.” Slama then posted back-to-back strikeouts of Shelly Duncan and Trevor Crowe, and had a 0-2 count on Jason Donald looking to record the game’s final out. “I was trying so hard to strike him out – the crowd was on (their) feet – I ended up getting him to ground out to third,” Slama said. “It was a big deal. My heart was pounding out of my chest after that. It was cool. Both his future wife and parents were able to make it to the game by the sixth inning, in plenty of time to see him work the ninth. “I don’t remember being all that nervous.” Slama said. “It was exciting – it wasn’t scary. I was thrilled to warm up in a big league bullpen; I was thrilled to make that jog out there. It was fear that I wasn’t going to make it (to the game), then it was just exhilaration while I was pitching.”
Rommie Lewis (Toronto Blue Jays, MLB debut: 4/28/10)
It took Lewis nine seasons in the minor leagues before he made his major league debut in Toronto against the Boston Red Sox at age 27. With the Blue Jays trailing 2-0, Lewis worked the top of the ninth inning, getting the first two batters he faced, J.D. Drew and Jason Varitek, to ground out. After Adrian Beltre lined a single to center field, Lewis closed out a scoreless inning by getting Mike Lowell to strike out swinging. Lewis, who would go on to appear in a total of 20 games with Toronto in 2010 and 2011, admits to not being able to remember too many details about the day he made his MLB debut, but clearly recalled feeling particularly more nervous than any other emotion that day. “I was on Cloud 9,” Lewis said. “I don’t even know if I was thinking or anything. I honestly don’t remember anything about the day. Nerves were definitely a little more pronounced than scared or excited. I was just nervous to take the mound on a big league field for the first time. I played in the minors for 10 years, I was used to that. I could go play anywhere in the minors. But in the big stadium, it was pretty nerve-wracking.”
Julio DePaula (Minnesota Twins, MLB debut: 5/16/07)
“Somewhere between happy and scared” is DePaula’s description of how he felt when he made his Major League debut at age 24 with the Twins against the Indians in Cleveland. With Minnesota trailing 7-1, DePaula worked a scoreless bottom of the eighth inning, striking out Jesse Barfield, sandwiching groundouts by Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner around a Casey Blake single to right field. After years of games in smaller minor league ballparks, pitching in a stadium the size of Jacobs Field can understandably be somewhat intimidating, so DePaula said he purposefully tried not to look around at all when he was in the game. “I tried to focus on the catcher’s signs and whatever I wanted to throw,” DePaula said. “You have to focus on the little thing that’s at home plate and you don’t have time to look around. When you’re out of the game, you have time to enjoy that.” With a scoreless inning to his credit, DePaula remembers being greeted by his teammates as he left the field. “(It was) really exciting,” DePaula said. “When I went to the dugout, everybody gives me high-fives (and I’m thinking) I’m here, I made it.”
Zach Segovia (Philadelphia Phillies, MLB debut: 4/08/07)
Before he ever stepped on the mound as the Phillies’ starting pitcher on Easter Sunday in 2007 in Miami, Segovia came within one batter of his first Major League at-bat before he had thrown his first big league pitch. The Phillies jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and with two outs, Segovia was suddenly standing in the on-deck circle waiting to see if catcher Rod Barajas would reach base or not. But Barajas struck out to end the inning and Segovia’s big league debut would start on the mound, not in the batter’s box. He cleanly got through the first inning against the Marlins, retiring Dan Uggla for his first MLB strike out. While some players talk openly about being nervous or scared in their debuts, Segovia said for him, it was something completely different. “It’s almost indescribable,” Segovia said. “You’re not scared, you’re not nervous, it’s a different feeling. There wasn’t a lot of anxiety. It was just go out, do what you can do, stay within yourself, and you’ll make pitches and get outs. Segovia remembers Barajas immediately saving the ball he used in recording his first Major League strikeout against Uggla and other special gestures from his debut. “I struck out Uggla the second batter of the game, he was my first big league strikeout and Barajas immediately knew to save the ball and I have that ball sitting in my son’s room,” Segovia said. “There’s mementos and there’s people who are looking out for you. They know it’s a special day for you. They make it as easy and as smooth as possible, so there is no scared or nervous. It’s an awesome experience. You do those first warm-up pitches, and wow, it’s a big-league mound. You get a little ‘this is really where I’m at.’ It’s a good experience, but it’s just only a moment, you just kind of soak it in and then that’s it.”
Mark Teahen (Kansas City Royals, MLB debut: 4/4/05)
At age 23, Teahen’s first game in the majors came on Opening Day 2005 in Detroit against the Tigers and a tough pitcher in Jeremy Bonderman, who would go on to win 14 games that season. Of special note was the fact that Bonderman and Teahen had been teammates three years earlier with the Oakland A’s Single-A club in Modesto, CA. It was also special that many members of Teahen’s immediate and extended family were able to watch him play in person that day at Comerica Park, since many of the Teahan family hails from Canada, not far from Detroit. “It was neat my whole immediate family could be there, but (also) a lot of extended family was there,” Teahen said. “I think that was the coolest part of it.” As the players from both teams were being introduced in pre-game ceremonies, veteran teammate Tony Graffanino grabbed the rookie Teahen to share a little advice on handling his big league debut. “(He said to) make sure to look up there and see your whole family is here cheering for you,” Teahen said with a laugh. “Make sure you see your whole family, and that they all already have a beer!” Teahen recalls that he nearly got his first big league hit on his very first swing. “I lined one over the third base line and it was foul by about an inch,” Teahen said. “I thought I had a double to start off my big league career, but instead I ended up with a broken bat pop-out.” Teahen went 0-4 that day, but going hitless didn’t detract from his special memories. “I tried to keep everything in perspective, so I kind of understood, digging in for that first at-bat, just realizing all the innings and practice and everything else, ultimately your goal is to make it to the big leagues and, of course you want to go on and have a long career,” Teahen said. “But just getting that first taste and saying you got there is a huge moment. I think I realized it at the time and tried to take it all in, but you can’t fully appreciate it until you step back a little bit.”
Pedro Liriano (Milwaukee Brewers, MLB debut: 8/27/04)
When Liriano found out he was being called-up to the big leagues to pitch for the Brewers, he was told to catch a plane from Toledo, OH (where his Triple-A team was playing) to meet up with the big league club in Chicago. When he got to the airport, he found out his flight from Toledo was cancelled, which got Liriano’s imagination churning, wondering if the cancelled flight might cause the front office in Milwaukee to rethink calling him up. “I was scared, really nervous,” Liriano said, worried that after his long wait to get the Major Leagues, something like a cancelled flight might get in his way. Then after finally getting to Chicago, Liriano had to wait a couple days for his MLB debut to come in Philadelphia. When the Brewers bullpen coach said he was going to pitch the next inning, Liriano said he thought of his family back home in the Dominican Republic being able to see him play on television. Liriano entered the game in the bottom of the seventh, with Milwaukee leading 6-0. He got his first big league strikeout against the first batter he faced (Bobby Abreu) and then retired Jim Thome on a grounder to short. After David Bell doubled to center, Liriano induced Placido Polanco to fly out to right field to close out a scoreless inning. “It was hard to control my emotions,” Liriano said. “When you come from the minor leagues and you get to the big leagues, you put in your mind that you have to get there and see if you can get those hitters out. You just need to do what you were doing before in the minors. When you get there, you find out. So when I got three outs without a run, I said ‘I’m here and I’m able to do whatever any other pitcher does.’ ”
Michael Wuertz (Chicago Cubs, MLB debut: 4/5/04)
While Opening Day is a pretty big deal in every MLB city, it’s an official city holiday in Cincinnati and includes a massive parade and sensory overload of colorful pageantry. For decades, it was tradition that the first pitch of every Major League season always took place in Cincinnati and in 2004, the Chicago Cubs were in town to face the Reds and 25-year-old rookie Michael Wuertz had made the Cubs’ Opening Day roster. With the Cubs ahead 5-4 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, Wuertz relieved starter Kerry Wood and pitched a scoreless frame, striking out the Reds’ Jason LaRue and Ryan Freel, before getting Juan Castro to ground out to second base for the third out of the inning. Wuertz, who would go on to pitch in 426 MLB games over eight seasons, said he experienced feelings of both excitement and nervousness that day. “It was a little bit of both,” he said. For Wuertz, he said his big-league debut was like an ending to one aspect of his baseball career and the beginning of a brand-new one. “To me, it felt like a little bit of the culmination of the first chapter I guess, getting through the minor leagues and getting to the big leagues,” Wuertz said. “But then that was like the beginning of a new story – that’s kind of the way I looked at it. Obviously, you got there, but as people say – the easy part is getting there, the hard part is sticking. That was always a goal of mine to get there, but to be able to stick there was another part of the story.”
Corey Thurman (Toronto Blue Jays, MLB debut: 4/5/02)
Even before he stepped foot on a big league pitcher’s mound that season, Thurman had allowed the Major League experience to thoroughly wash over him. “My first three or four days in the big leagues were awesome,” Thurman said. “It was just like a debut for a week.” As a 23-year-old rookie with the Blue Jays on Opening Day at Boston’s Fenway Park, Thurman got to the ballpark at 7 a.m. He watched, almost in awe, as Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler performed the national anthem as part of the opening ceremonies. The New England Patriots, fresh off their Super Bowl win, held a massive American flag in front of the “Green Monster” in left field. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw out the first pitch. Pedro Martinez walked in from the bullpen to pitch for the Red Sox as the crowd went wild, chanting “Pedro, Pedro!” While he didn’t get to pitch during the series in Boston, Thurman got to see how big leaguers did it, and the amazing energy in a big league ballpark. By the time Thurman got to pitch against the Minnesota Twins a few days later in Toronto, he was ready for his opportunity. With the Blue Jays trailing 4-2 in the top of the fifth inning, Thurman jogged from the bullpen to face the Twins. He struck out the first batter he faced (Doug Mientkiewicz), then David Ortiz lined a double to right. Thurman got Torii Hunter and Corey Koskie to ground out to end the scoring threat. In the sixth, the Twins’ Dustan Mohr led off against Thurman with a triple, then Thurman got Warren Morris to pop out and Tom Prince to ground out before being replaced by Felix Heredia. Thurman’s pitching line – 1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 K. Not too bad for a rookie who couldn’t settle his nerves enough to even throw a strike in the bullpen while warming up. While he’ll certainly always remember his first big league appearance, Thurman will also never forget his father’s reaction when he saw his son was about to achieve his goal of playing in the Majors. “I’ll never forget, my Dad was there and (he) is a very non-emotional kind of guy – military guy, very straightforward,” Thurman said. “My Mom, telling me later because my Dad would never tell that he had done this, when he saw my face on the big screen in Toronto and he saw me getting ready to come in, my Mom said he shed a tear. He was my coach from tee-ball at (age) four and that’s what I said I wanted to do was get to the big leagues. He was just so proud that I set out to do what I wanted to do and I made it.”