“September Call Up” by Charles Rockwell
It all began to sink in once I got on the bus to the ballpark. The feeling was bittersweet. I was going to be making my Major League debut against the team that drafted me three years earlier and that I had rooted for as a child with my father. A couple of years after being drafted, I became “the player to be named later.” I had to start in a whole new system. It would be unlikely that I ever would play for my favorite team. The players and coaches were carrying on during the ride, but the memories of my path to the big leagues are running through my head like a movie.
I had been raised a Baltimore fan. My father would take me to games on a regular basis. He would tell me that, one day, I would be playing on that field. “You have a gift, and it is my dream for you achieve greatness.” I always thought he was giving me the talk that all fathers give their children. When I got older, my abilities to play baseball became more apparent. I would play on all-star teams. My parents would sacrifice so much to keep me playing baseball. While he never said it, I am pretty sure my father lost a job when I was eleven because he wanted me to be a baseball player. He told my mom it was because the company was downsizing, but I heard him out in the garage one night with his buddies talking about how his boss was going to make him work when he was supposed to drive me and my traveling team four hours across the state for the little league state championship tournament.
There were times I would begin to hate baseball. It was not really the game, but the pressure that came with the tournaments. We had to win but, when you are a child, baseball is supposed to be fun, not about championships.
A few years later, I would play in high school, and baseball became fun again. When I was an athlete in high school, it gave me status with my classmates. I wore my varsity jacket around my high school like a badge of honor. It was a big deal being named to the varsity team as a freshman. I had four years to improve before I could either move on to college or enter the first year player draft in Major League baseball. After high school, I chose to enter the baseball draft. When I was selected by Baltimore, my father was so proud and happy, he had tears in his eyes. Not only had his dream of me playing baseball professionally come true, but I was drafted by the team we had cheered for since I was a kid.
For the next few years, I played in the Baltimore farm system. I loved the game, but life on the road is hard. My parents would travel to some of my games, and I was always excited to play in front of them.
One day in August, I was finally introduced to the business side of baseball. The team I had rooted for as a child had traded me to Minneapolis. This was heart-wrenching. I wanted to be the hometown hero, and play my entire career in Baltimore. I wanted my father in his retirement to sit behind the dugout every home game. My dream had been taken away.
I continued to progress through the Minneapolis farm system. When I made it to AAA ball, I knew eventually that I would make it to Major League ball, even if it was only for a short time.
A few months later, I was on a bus heading to the ballpark for my Major League debut. As the bus pulled up, the ballpark seemed larger than when I was a kid. I entered the tunnel to the locker room, and the hair on my arms began to stand up on end. Today gave me the chance I had worked so hard to obtain.
When I found my locker, I sat down and looked around at all the other players. I knew some of them from spring training. Many of them I recognized from watching baseball on TV. I was finally one of them, even if it was for a September call up when teams expanded their rosters. My uniform was clean and hanging in my locker. It looked pristine. I pulled my jersey off the hanger and looked at the back. There it was in big bold letters “REYNOLDS.” My name on a Major League jersey. It was brand new and had never been worn by anybody else. Those eight letters had been stitched on the jersey sometime this morning, because I did not know I was coming to Baltimore until 8:30 last night. My first call was to my dad. I told him it was finally going to happen and I would be in Baltimore in a few hours. His voice sounded different. He was all choked up with emotion. He told me he would be there for my debut, and so would my Mother.
After I put my uniform on, I walked out of the tunnel to the dugout. The manager had placed his lineup card up early and I was astonished to see I would be the designated hitter for today’s game. I knew then I had to warm up. Walking out on to the field the grass, I noticed it was perfectly manicured. The infield dirt was as smooth as a pool table. “This is how baseball should be played,” I thought to myself. The large ballpark that surrounded the field made me feel very small.
When I got to the cage for batting practice, it did not go as well as planned. Most of the balls I hit rolled in the infield back to where the second baseman would be. Double play balls are the kiss of death in the big leagues. It had to be nerves. I rarely ground into a double play in the minor leagues. I had to get out of this rut quick.
“Don’t make me regret the lineup card I wrote this morning,” I heard from the dugout. I looked over to see the manager Bruce Johnson checking out my swing.
“I am going to fix this before the game starts,” I replied. It was now crunch time; this problem had to go away.
The hitting coach approached, and brought me to the hitting tunnels under the stadium to fix my nerves. This was exciting and disappointing at the same time. Having my swing worked on by a guy who hit over .350 four years in a row was a dream come true. Having my Major League career depend on him fixing the problem made me even more nervous.
When we were done, I went back to the dugout to see if my parents had arrived. I had reserved them some tickets behind the dugout. My parents were here. Dad was wearing a Minneapolis Jersey. I never thought that would happen, especially in the stadium we visited so many times before. “Nice shirt,” I told him. “I will get you a dirty one with our name on it in about four hours.” They both seemed excited but it was too loud to talk anymore.
Once the game started, my team was going to bat first. I was sixth in the lineup so the likelihood of me making a plate appearance during the first inning was slim. We scored three runs in the first inning when the short stop hitting fifth drilled a three run homer while I was in the on deck circle. Standing in the batter’s box, the outfield wall seemed a hundred miles away. The pitcher, another September call up, was visibly nervous. He had given up more runs than he had made outs. This was my opportunity to make first at-bat one for the record books. I hit his third pitch down the first base line. The ball shot around the outfield walls and corners like it was in a pinball machine. I hustled past second base and slid into third to make my first at-bat a triple. I got up and looked at my uniform. It was filthy like it should be. A clean uniform meant I had not played as hard as I should. The next batter struck out swinging, and that ended the inning, sending me back to the dugout.
“Nice hit,” I heard as I was walking down into the dugout. Bruce Johnson was looking over at me. “Next time, hit it over the wall.” I sat in the dugout for what seemed like an eternity while the position players took to the field.
Finally, in the top of the fourth inning, my next opportunity to hit happened. Down 0-2, I fouled off what seemed like thirty pitches before lining one to the base of the wall in left center. It was a stand up double. I thought these Major League pitchers were going to be more challenging. On a wild pitch, I advanced to third, and then scored on a sac fly.
In the sixth inning, I hit a solo home run that just squeaked over the outfield wall. I ran around the bases and then walked to the dugout. I waved my hat to my parents walking down the dugout steps. Sitting in the dugout, it finally dawned on me “I am a single away from hitting for the cycle.” This is a huge feat that most players never achieve, let alone in a Major League debut. I couldn’t wait to get back in the batter’s box.
I was three for three for the game when I stepped up to the plate. I was locked in. I just needed to slap one past the infield and leg it out to first to put my name in the history books. I was going to get a hit, I was certain of it. The pitcher stood on the rubber and set to make his first pitch. I tightened my grip on the bat. This was the moment of truth. I watched the ball leave his left hand. It was a fast ball, but it was heading right for me. I turned and it hit me square in the back.
“Not on my watch,” yelled the pitcher.
“You’re out of here!” screamed the home plate umpire, and immediately ejected the pitcher from the game. I wanted to charge the mound more than anything else in the world. He took away my chance to make history. I slowly walked to first, glaring at him.
The team trainer came out to check on me to see if I needed to come out of the game. I told him I was fine and wanted to stay in. There was still a chance, albeit slim, that I could get one more plate appearance.
We came into the ninth inning up three runs, and I was six spots in the lineup away from hitting. Their pitcher had a 1-2-3 inning. My chance at hitting for the cycle had slipped away. Our closer had only blown one save all season, and he had a three run cushion. The game was essentially over. Suddenly, for the second time this season, he blew a save, and we were going into extra innings. My dream was returning to me.
The two batters in front of me had made it on base. I stood in the batter’s box wanting a hit more than anything else in the world. After battling to a three-two pitch count, I slapped one into right field and ran as hard as I could to first base. The two baserunners made it home and my hit put us ahead by two runs. My hit caused the opposing pitcher to be replaced with one from the bullpen. I made it to second on a wild pitch but the new pitcher struck out the next three batters, ending the inning. When the top of the tenth was over, I walked back to the dugout, proud that I had hit for the cycle and put the team up by two runs. The entire team gave me the silent treatment.
Mark Williams, our catcher, looked at me and said, “stop gloating. It doesn’t count if you take more than nine innings to get the hits.”
Was he serious? He sounded serious, and I felt a ball in my stomach. Then the entire team turned towards me, smiling. They were putting me on. I had hit for the cycle. Just wait until tomorrow I told them. I should get better against Major League pitching.