I have talked the past few days about how difficult it is to send a player out of big league camp, and the even more difficult task of telling a player that we are going to have to let them go. Thursday was one of the better days, when you get to tell a young player that has busted his butt, that he is going north with the team. I was able to tell two of our young players who have never made an opening day roster that they were going to be with us in Arizona when we open up against the Diamond Backs. The moves we have made, kind of told them this already, but it is always nice to hear it first hand from the manager. I hope that they celebrated a little tonight, and called their families and friends to share the good news.
I will never forget the first time that I was given this news. I was just out of AA, and hadn't spent one day in triple A, so I was just excited to be invited to spring training with the big club. We had a very unusual spring and our catchers were dropping like flies, and all of a sudden, the skinny kid with number 98 on his back was actually getting some playing time. I was trying to do things the right way, and keep my mouth shut, and in the meanwhile, I was actually playing pretty well.
The turning point was a game that I actually got to start against the Cubs (because everyone else was hurt) and in the second inning, the batter decided to charge the mound. I had a little practice at this, and did my job of stopping the batter, and actually snuck in a couple jabs, and my pitcher and manager were the happiest people in the ballpark. Our manager Phil Garner was quoted after the game that he "didn't know the name of the kid behind the plate, but he may have just made our ball club." Come to find out, he wasn't kidding. A week later he called me into his office, with stogie in hand and told me the words that I had waited my whole life to hear, although he said them a little different than I dreamt.
He said, "kid, I really don't want to do this, but you are going to have to make our team." He made it sound like they tried everyone else on the planet and I was the last living soul left for the position. It took me a few seconds to register what he said, and then when I realized that he wasn't kidding, I left his office on cloud nine, and I don't think it was from the cigar.
I immediately went back to the hotel and spent $100 in quarters in the pay phone at the team hotel calling everyone I knew, and some people that I didn't know, just to tell them that I was going to the big leagues. Just when I thought that I had finally achieved this monumental goal, we had one last exhibition game against the Tigers on April 1st before we opened the season on April 3rd.
I caught part of the game and actually hit a double off of David Wells and came off the field pretty proud. I was instantly summoned into the managers office where 3 or 4 of our veterans stood next to the managers desk. His face said it all, and when the first words he said were "I'm really sorry..." I thought that I was going to get sick. He proceeded to tell me that he made a mistake and that I needed some more time in AAA before I came to the big leagues. All I could think about was how many people I had told, and that I was so close to reaching my dream. What seemed like an eternity of silence, all of a sudden turned into a room full of laughter. I didn't understand the joke, until one of the guys yelled out "April fools!" I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or punch someone in the mouth. That was the meanest joke anyone could have ever played, but it made for a great "first day in the big leagues" story.