It was a Sunday and after that day game we decided to take full advantage of having the evening off in what was to be the last month of my 5th minor league season. I was playing well that season. I played in the AAA All-Star game and homered in the contest over the pool in right field of the New Orleans Zephyrs home field. My plans after 1999 were to return to Cal and finish my education by obtaining a degree in Sociology. Before leaving for a night on the town I made Kory sit through baseball highlights. As I watched, the Montreal Expos highlights came on. The last highlight was of Expos shortstop Orlando Cabrera hitting a groundball. The camera stayed on Orlando as he hustled towards 1st base vying for an infield hit. My heart skipped a beat when I saw what happened next. Orlando hit the outside of the base and his foot went left and his body went right. OUCH! It looked terrible and the announcer confirmed that Orlando had broken his ankle. Talk about bitter sweet. You dream of making the big leagues on your own merit but sometimes you need opportunity created by something out of your control. Quietly I hoped this was my opportunity. I had been playing shortstop all season for the AAA affiliate of the Montreal Expos, the Ottawa Lynx.
Later in the evening Pierce Brosnan had just pulled a spectacular anti-heist by replacing a painting he had previously stolen in “The Thomas Crown Affair”. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, and I gathered our stuff and left the theater in Ottawa, Ontario. I spoiled my future wife that season by exposing her to the luxuries of minor league baseball that season. We returned to our room in a 2-bedroom basement that I was renting with a local university student. My roomie said that someone had called from the Expos and left a number for me to call. As I had hoped, Jim Beattie, the Expos GM at the time, called and said they needed my services in Montreal. Needless to say that I didn’t sleep much that night knowing that my next at bat would be in the “Show”.
August 9, 1999
It was a 3-hour train ride from Ottawa to Montreal. I had thoroughly mapped out my route from the train station to Le Stade de Olympique. No, I didn’t use Google maps and my first generation portable cellular telephone made by Nokia didn’t help either, unless playing “snake” for 3 hours counts as helping.
I arrived in plenty of time to see my jersey hanging in my locker. Words will never justify the sense of accomplishment when you finally see your name on a Major League jersey. It was real and it was professionally stitched on. It took everything in me not to put it on immediately. In a matter of 24 hours, 4 ½ years of hard living in the Minors melted away into worthwhile process that led to this moment. As I finished unpacking my equipment a clubhouse attendant let me know that Felipe Alou wanted to see me in his office. Felipe in his beautiful Dominican accent welcomed me to the MLB. He also informed that I was the starting shortstop that night against the San Diego Padres. It was a brilliant move on his part inserting me immediately into the lineup. The decision removed some of the anxiety and put the emphasis and focus on preparing for the game. He easily could have started Mike Mordecai and had me watch. My mind was spinning, heart racing but there was always an underlying calm as if I knew I belonged. Maybe it was because I was joining a team that was 44-64 at that time and playing at home in front of 10,000 fans. No matter the circumstances, I was and still am proud to have been a Montreal Expo.
In my first at bat I struck out swinging on the 4th pitch of the at bat. It was a 1-2 breaking ball that snapped downward unlike anything I had seen before. I was smiling. No, I really was; it was an official AB in the big leagues and I could not have been happier. In the game I went 2-4 with a double and 2 rbi’s. My first hit was off of Matt Clement. The first groundball I picked up was the last play of the game. An unassisted double play off the bat of the great Tony Gwynn. It happened; I played in the Major Leagues and even recorded a hit. At that time, I didn’t know what future held but I was overjoyed to be able to say that I had played at the highest level in my sport.
July 18, 2012
A month short of 14 years in Major League Baseball, Kirk Gibson gently let me know that the Arizona Diamondbacks no longer needed my services. My body beaten, mind understanding, I accepted his hand shake and told him that I appreciated the opportunity to wear the Arizona Diamondback jersey. I tearfully shook hands of teammates, coaches and clubhouse staff because I knew that I was saying good bye to the game for good. With my heart exploding with joy and pain knowing that my magical journey was over I emerged from the bowels of Chase Field to be welcomed by warm, comfortable smiles and hugs from my 4 gorgeous daughters and loving wife.
The game made me the happiest I’ve been and the bitterest I’ve been but I loved every minute of it. Some ask, “what was your greatest accomplishment in baseball?”. The obvious answer is winning a World Championship with the White Sox in 2005. The answer I give immediately after that is: I was never sent back to the minor leagues. From that glorious day in August of 1999 until July 18, 2012 I was a Major League Baseball player. There were some injury rehab stints in those years but I was never officially assigned to the minor leagues in close to 14 years.
Oh yeah, my last MLB at bat was a base hit to right in Cincinnati;)